Iraqi cameraman recounts ordeal in US detention
Tue May 04 2004 08:56:14 ET
The US interrogater yanked the 24-year-old Iraqi male's hair and peeled back his eyelids.
"'Do not ever imagine you will manage to get out of this. Forget about your Jazeera; forget about your future; the only future you will enjoy is in Guantanamo,'" the American shouted, according to Al-Jazeera television cameraman Suhaib Badraddin Baz who spent two-months in US custody.
Baz's story is just one of many told by Iraqis about beatings at the hands of US prison guards, allegations which sparked international outrage last week when images of abuse were published in the US media.
The coalition has vowed to bring all offenders to justice and has already suspended 17 US military personnel from their duties.
But Baz, who was detained twice last year by US forces, said he no longer believed in America's commitment to human rights or freedom.
"It was night, 10:00 pm (1800 GMT). The American officer came and said to me 'Maybe there are some guys who respect the media, I respect no one'," Baz recalled of his first night in US costody after his second arrest.
"It was only after three hours I spent standing hooded that I was admitted to a room and they started interrogating me."
He said the interrogator accused him of collaborating with insurgents fighting US forces and demanded to know why Al-Jazeera, an Arab station which is heavily criticised by US officials, appeared to know about attacks before they occurred.
Baz said he asked for time to pray, but the guards refused. He also claimed to have been beaten and spat on during his two days in US custody at Samarra, north of Baghdad.
"Guards kept beating me and calling me names... It seemed to me that everyone ... coming into the room wished me dead. I was kicked and spat on over and over," he claimed.
Baz, whose story could not be immediately confirmed, said he was then flown to the Baghdad airport where he spent two more days before being hooded and transfered again.
"During that time ... there was someone who tried to terrify me by pointing a machine gun at my back and many times the guy tried to make me feel as if he or she was about to shoot," he said.
"Whenever I made even a slight movement, I had someone beating me for it."
At one point, a soldier bashed his head against a wall until he fell unconscious, he said.
"I was still hooded, and because of the pain in my forehead I thought I would lose my eyesight. The guy keep doing this for some time till I fainted," he said.
Finally, Baz was moved to his last destination, the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. He said he was stripped naked against his will, and beaten when he refused to take off his clothes.
Baz said he heard people cry out in pain at all hours. His cell had no light or bedding, except for a torn blanket. He went weeks without a shower or bath.
"Because it was in winter, it was damp and cold and I spent many nights shivering. My feet started to swell as I was not allowed to wear slippers," he said.
"It was only after 35 days that at around 4:00 am some of the guards came and told me it was my turn to take a bath. I thought it would be a nice warm one, but ... I was shocked to find out that it was harshly cold."
He said the guards taunted him with false news about the killing or arrest of some of his colleagues in Baghdad. Other prisoners were also humiliated.
"A man and his son were brought in. They were both hooded. Then they were stripped naked and after that they were allowed to see each other. It was so hard for both of them. Then the son was given female underwear. I saw it for myself," he said.
Later he was moved to a large tent, home to about 40 detainees, where Baz said one sick man died without receiving medical care.
Released after about two months, Baz returned to his job at Jazeera but he admits that he is now fiercely anti-American.
"Before the war, I had a bright idea about the Americans. I thought they were people who believe deeply in democracy and respect freedom," he said.
"Now I believe that the Americans are far removed from anything related to democracy and freedom."