Former prisoners recount stories of abuse

Ex-detainee says Americans' treatment of him was `not human'

Crisis In Iraq

May 09, 2004|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BAGHDAD, Iraq - When American soldiers released him from Abu Ghraib prison in December, Hashem Mohsen Lazim chose to stay silent about what had happened to him there.

He didn't tell his wife about standing naked and simulating sex acts with another inmate while a female American soldier laughed and sang songs. He didn't tell his mother about crawling on his hands and knees, also naked, while a male soldier rode him like a horse.

And he didn't tell his friends about being stacked into a pyramid with six other detainees, and forced to do it over and over again until their bodies stopped tumbling into a heap on the concrete floor.

"Who on earth would believe me?" Lazim said yesterday at his ramshackle house on the edge of Sadr City, the enormous slum on the eastern edge of Baghdad.

After photographs of the abuse were broadcast worldwide, Lazim broke his silence. He says he is one of the prisoners seen in the photos wearing a hood and forced to perform acts now acknowledged by American officials as degrading and sadistic.

Lazim's story of mistreatment cannot be verified in every detail. But his release papers show he was imprisoned at Abu Ghraib when the documented abuses occurred, October to December of last year, and his story closely matches that of another inmate, Hayder Sabbar Abd, who has also spoken publicly about his ordeal and has recognized soldiers in the photos.

"I was the first to welcome the Americans when they arrived," said Lazim, who is 34 and sold used tires on the street before the war. Since his release, he has joined the Iraqi police. "What they did to me is not human. The people who did this cannot be Americans."

Other former prisoners tell stories that are no less harrowing. A 28-year-old man who asked that he be identified only as Abu Anmar said he was pulled from his bed in the village of Baquba, an hour's drive northeast of Baghdad, on Jan. 5, stripped naked and hauled off to a nearby jail. He was accused of being a member of Saddam Hussein's militia, the Fedayeen.

Abu Anmar showed a reporter his release papers from Abu Ghraib and his prison identification bracelet, which also had his photo. Army officials confirmed that Abu Anmar had been imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.

The abuse that Abu Anmar said he suffered began long before he reached Abu Ghraib. He was hooded and shoved into a concrete wall after his arrest, he said, and then was whipped on his bare back. He said he had to be hospitalized when he was brought to a detention facility at Baghdad's airport.

Abu Anmar and Lazim offer a glimpse into the mostly hidden conditions that at least some Iraqi prisoners have endured since the United States toppled Saddam Hussein's regime.

Abu Anmar wasn't subjected to the same abuse that Lazim said he experienced. The two men were held at Abu Ghraib at different times, but each man tells of living in tents policed by guards who punished people harshly for slight infractions.

Lazim and Abu Anmar said the American-run detention camp at Baghdad's airport gave prisoners clean linens, fresh food and prompt medical attention. Both men condemned Abu Ghraib for what they said were assaults on human dignity.

Humiliation

Abu Anmar said the humiliation began the night of his arrest, when a soldier ripped off his underpants in front of his wife. He said that the soldiers mispronounced the word fedayeen and that it wasn't until months later that he realized he was being accused of participating in the outlawed militia.

He was put into a Humvee and driven to an old Iraqi military camp called Saad. There, he said, he was handcuffed from behind and repeatedly shoved into walls as soldiers laughed. Someone whipped him, he said.

The next day, he was transferred to the detention center at Baghdad's airport, where he said he arrived bloodied and bruised. "A soldier there asked what had happened to me and said that it wasn't right," said Abu Anmar, the father of a 1-year-old boy. "He told me it wasn't acceptable, and he put me in the hospital."

After 21 days, Abu Anmar said, he was taken to a facility in Tikrit, in northern Iraq, where he said a soldier threw him facedown to the ground, pressed his boot to the back of his neck and hit him in the back.

He said he was in one of three large cells, each holding up to eight inmates. He said he was forced to sleep handcuffed. "We weren't allowed to talk to anyone," he said. "The guards said we attacked Americans and that we were going to die."

After four days, he said, he was moved again, to Abu Ghraib. He was assigned to Camp 8 in a tent city. Each of the eight camps held 400 to 450 prisoners.

Abu Anmar said that he carried a sick friend to guards every day for a week seeking medical attention. "They told me he was just faking," he said. "Then my friend just collapsed and died. The guard waited for a while, and when it was obvious the guy was dead, simply dragged him away and threw him into a car."

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