'Men disappearing-just as in Saddam's day' (Fisk)

John M Cox coxj at email.unc.edu
Wed Jul 23 06:39:56 MDT 2003

Men Disappearing--  Just as in Saddams Day
Robert Fisk  Independent

BAGHDAD, 23 July 2003  Now heres a story to shame us all. Its about
Americas shameful prison camps in Iraq. Its about the beating of prisoners
during interrogation.

Sources may be a dubious word in journalism right now, but the sources for
the beatings in Iraq are impeccable and any US military intelligence
officers who want to call me a liar can explain how three of their
prisoners in the Bagram camp in Afghanistan were murdered during
interrogation. This story is also about the gunning down of three
prisoners in Baghdad, two of them while trying to escape.

But most of all, its about Qais Mohamed Al-Salman.

Qais Al-Salman is just the sort of guy that US Ambassador Paul Bremer and
his dead-end assistants in the Anglo-American occupation authorities need
right now. He hated Saddam, fled Iraq in 1976, then returned after the
liberation with a briefcase literally full of plans to help in the
restoration of his countrys infrastructure and water purification system.
Hes an engineer whos worked in Africa, Asia and Europe. He is a Danish
citizen. He speaks good English. He even likes America. Or did until June
6 this year.

That day he was traveling in Abu Nawas Street when his car came under fire
from American troops. He says he never saw a checkpoint. Bullets hit the
tires and his driver and another passenger ran for their lives. Salman was
carrying his files on water systems and agricultural projects for the new
Iraq and stood meekly beside the vehicle. He was carrying his Danish
passport, Danish driving license and medical records.

But let him tell his own story. 'A civilian car came up with American
soldiers in it. Then more soldiers in military vehicles. I told them I
didnt understand what had happened, that I was a scientific researcher.
But they made me lie down in the street, my face on the tarmac, tied my
arms behind me with plastic-and-steel cuffs and tied up my feet and put me
in one of their vehicles.'

The next bit of his story carries implications for our own journalistic
profession. 'After 10 minutes in the vehicle, I was taken out again. There
were journalists with cameras. The Americans untied me, then made me lie
on the road again. Then, in front of the cameras, they tied my hands and
feet all over again and put me back in the vehicle. I told them my elderly
mother was expecting me, that she must know what was happening. They
ignored me.'

If this wasnt a common story in Baghdad today  if the gross injustices
meted out to ordinary Iraqis and the equally gross mistreatment in
Americas prison camps here was not so common  then Salmans story would not
be so important.

Amnesty International turned up in Baghdad Monday to investigate  along
with Saddams monstrous crimes  the mass detention center run by the
Americans at Baghdad International Airport in which up to 2,000 prisoners
live, with neither their own lawyers nor any trial, and in hot, airless

The makeshift jail is called Camp Cropper and there have already been two
attempted breakouts. Both would-be escapees, needless to say, were swiftly
shot dead by their American captors. Yesterday, Amnesty  equally needless
to say  was forbidden permission to visit Camp Cropper.

Nor am I surprised. Because this is where the Americans took Salman on
June 6. He was put in Tent B, a vast canvas room containing up to 130

There were different classes of people there, Salman recalls. 'There were
people of high culture, doctors and university people, and there were the
most dirty animal people, thieves and criminals the like of which I never
saw before. In the morning, I was taken for interrogation before an
American military intelligence officer. He was wearing a military T-short
and trousers. I explained everything to him, my Danish citizenship, my
job. I showed him letters involving me in USAID projects and investment
schemes with a UK company. He kept asking me why I had these documents.
Then he pinned a label on my shirt. It read: 'Suspected Assassin.'"

Now there probably are some assassins in Camp Cropper. The good, the bad
and the ugly have been incarcerated there: Old Baathists, possible Iraqi
torturers, looters and just about anyone who has got in the way of the
American military. Only selected prisoners are beaten during
interrogation. Again, I repeat, the source is impeccable  and Western.

Fortunately, Salman was not one of the selected. But he was given no water
to wash in  most of the prisoners at that time caught skin infections  and
after trying to explain his innocence to a second interrogator, he went on
hunger strike. No formal charges were ever made against him. There were no
rules for the American jailers. Nor investigations into the shooting of
the escaping prisoners. It was Salman who led hundreds of men in a
miniature intifada at the prison, screaming Freedom, Freedom, Freedom at
their jailors and hurling their wooden tent supports over the razor wire
at the prison guards.

Its a sign of Salmans integrity that he praises several of his captors:
The American major who prevented his men and women guards from
overreacting to the riot, and his third and fourth interrogators who
dutifully wrote down his long explanation of what the United States should
do to be successful in its dealings with Iraqis. Relieve Iraq of its $360
billion debt, he told them, learn about Iraqi culture and society, give
the country back its share in OPEC.

'They wrote all this down. They agreed with me'. But it was another 12
before an American lawyer read through his documents and decided that
Salman was an innocent man. 'Some soldiers drove me back to Baghdad after
33 days in that camp. They dropped me in Rashid Street and gave me back my
documents and Danish passport and they said Sorry.' Yes, they were sorry.

Salman went home to his grief-stricken mother who long believed her son
was dead. No American had contacted her despite her desperate requests to
the US authorities for help. Not one American had bothered to tell the
Danish government they had imprisoned one of its citizens.

Just as in Saddam Husseins day, a man had simply disappeared off the
streets of Baghdad.

Amnesty is taking up his case with the Americans. As for Salman, he
reflects upon the meaning of occupation. 'Its easy to say Sorry, isnt it?'


John Cox
Chapel Hill, NC

This Week in History:

July 20, 1925 Frantz Fanon born
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July 24, 1783 Simon Bolivar born
July 25, 1969 Otto Dix dies
July 25, 1984 "Big Mama" Thornton dies
July 26, 1893 George Grosz born
July 26, 1953 attack on Moncada barracks, Cuba

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