Iraqi Sheikh accuses Americans of torturing prisoners

An Iraqi sheikh who had been in the Abu Greib prison said torture was used there. This correspondent met with Karim Rashid, sheikh of a large and respected tribe al-Janabi, was released from the Abu Greib prison, which has become notorious throughout the world, three months ago.

I left Baghdad, with its hot and dusty streets and traffic, and drove towards Babylon and the southern provinces of Iraq. The road seemed extremely comfortable and high-speed and only the burned out carcasses of cars reminded me of the dangers of travelling in Iraq. After the 80-km mark on the roadside, the road forked and there was the sign pointing to the village of el-Bumhammed. I drove the last few kilometres and turned towards my goal - a giant house behind a high stone wall, which could easily be taken for one of Saddam Hussein's palaces.

I climbed out and saw several people waiting to take me across the clean shady yard to the building. Embarrassed by the large number of men in the traditional white floor-length didasha shirts, I did not immediately see the tall bent old man in a white kufiyya (head shawl), with a sickly, haggard face. It was the master of the house, Karim Rashid. Following several minutes of traditional exchange of pleasantries, we addressed the main subjects of our conversation.

The sheikh said he had long been looking for a journalist who would listen to his tribulations during the six-month imprisonment. However, until recently, even his close relatives had refused to believe his story, thinking he exaggerated because of shock.

The Americans arrested Sheikh Karim in August 2003. First he heard the thunder of military helicopters and then saw soldiers around his house. Without waiting for somebody to open the gate, they blew it up and stormed into the house, where they ordered up every man in the house - male guests from the sheikh's tribe, who frequently stayed overnight. They were taken to the nearby military base where the Americans put sacks over their heads, tied their hands behind and left them lying on the floor for several hours.

Some time later a man in a mask, whom soldiers brought into the room, pointed at the sheikh. After that, the other men were released. Sheikh Karim was not told why he was arrested. The next day he was taken to the Baghdad air force base, where he spent two days in a metre-by-metre stone pit. He was given a piece of bread and a bottle of water a day.

During the interrogations, the sheikh learned that he was accused of connections with Saddam Hussein, who was hiding from the occupation authorities then, and of giving shelter to Saddam, who allegedly spent a few days in his home.

Eventually, Sheikh Karim was moved to the Abu Greib prison, to the block for highly dangerous criminals. He says, relying on his personal experience and conversations with other prisoners, that Americans used various tortures in the prison, trying to find the best way to suppress the will of each prisoner. In particular, the military frequently used sticks and gun butts to beat prisoners on the most sensitive parts of their bodies. Or they beat them with their heads against the stone wall and floor, said the sheikh.

Sometimes the Americans entertained themselves by watching the trained guard dogs tear at the horror-stricken prisoners. Sheikh Karim also said local doctors were ordered to stitch the specially made deep cuts without giving the prisoner painkillers, or poured a liquid that left burns, all of this to make the luckless men say what the Americans wanted to hear.

The sheikh, who became an ill man during his months in the prison, was once put into a cage where the man cannot even move his arms or legs.

Another former inmate of Abu Greib, an officer from the Iraqi security service who did not reveal his name, said flogging and finger breaking were the simplest torture used in that prison. Those who were stronger were used as the punch bag: they were hung from the ceiling for the Americans to train in delivering all kinds of blows at them. The former inmate also said salt water was frequently poured on the wounds of Abu Greib inmates. He inferred that the inmates were subjected to sexual violence.

Apart from physical influence, the inmates were constantly humiliated. For example, they could be not allowed to sleep, ordered to clean the corridors and toilets several times a night and in the morning they were forced to lie down naked on the floor where excrements had been poured.

"I cannot calmly talk about everything they did to us there. By doing this, the occupiers are increasing the ranks of Iraqi resistance. Those who had been in the American prisons will never forgive them for the humiliation and torture to which they and their compatriots were subjected. They - and I - will take revenge for that day and night, until the least American and British soldiers leave our land," said the interlocutor who had spent eight months in Abu Greib.

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