The treatment of Iraqi prisoners apparent from the CBS pictures is not the American way of doing things, US President George W. Bush declared Friday. But the indications on the ground in Iraq are that such treatment may not be the exception.
Bush said he will “take care” of the soldiers pictured laughing and lording over naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, formerly Saddam Hussein’s most notorious lockup. The prison currently holds about 15,000.
“Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people,” Bush said at the White House during an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. “That’s not the way we do things in America.”
But soldier Ivan Frederick, the main source for the story and the photographs broadcast on CBS’s “60 Minutes” wrote to his uncle: “I questioned some of the things that I saw…such as leaving inmates in their cell with no clothes or in females’ underpants, handcuffing them to the door of their cell. I questioned this and the answer I got was, This is how military intelligence wants it done.”
He wrote that military intelligence has also “instructed us to place a prisoner in an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window for as much as three days.”
Such stories are all too familiar to most Iraqis.
Sixty-two-year-old Sheikh Abu Yasin al-Zawi was arrested after Friday prayers along with his son after calling Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin state terrorism.
“They arrived at the mosque at 5 p.m. and surrounded the whole area with hummers and tanks and they said, ‘you said bad things about the coalition at Friday prayers and your son said bad things too’,” al-Zawi said.
He was not taken to Abu Ghraib, but he and his son were taken to a U.S. military base near his mosque.
“They kept me in a very small cell without any type of bed or blanket,” he told IPS. “The soldier didn’t allow me to wash for prayer and they put a hood over my face. And they didn’t bring us food and even when I wanted to go to the toilet it was very complicated because the soldier would come with his gun and point it at me while I was in the toilet.”
Sheikh al-Zawi was lucky, he was released after 12 days. People taken to Abu Ghraib are usually not released for months.
Sheikh Ahmed Yahir al-Samarai has a brother and two sons incarcerated at Abu Ghraib He explains how his sons came to be arrested.
“They surrounded their shop and arrested them both,” says Sheikh Ahmed Yahir. “Also, they took two cars one was a new Mercedes, and a Toyota pick- up. They also took American dollars from the shop and Iraqi currency and they took all the copy books and they broke everything in the shop.”
Now Sheikh Ahmed Yahir and his wife are doing their best to raise five grandchildren on their own. They have not been able to visit either of their sons, but they have been able to piece together a picture of their life in Abu Ghraib from a few who have been released.
“Even Saddam Hussein didn’t treat people as bad as Americans,” says his wife Um Omar. “They left them three days standing without any food, they’re holding them in a tent with lots of older people, without electricity and the only water is warm water.”
But angry as they are about the imprisonment of their sons, these feelings cannot compare with how they feel about the death of a third son at the hands of the US Army.
Sheikh Ahmed Yahir explains what happened when two of his sons were stopped by US troops on way from Baghdad to the northern city of Samara.
“The American soldiers told them to get out of the car,” he says. “Then they ran over the car with a tank.”
After holding them for a few hours, he says the US soldiers took his sons to a dam over the Tigris River near Samara.
“The water is very quick there and very powerful,” he says. “The Americans told them to jump into the Tigris River. You know it’s a place where if you throw a piece of wood it will shatter into pieces. One of my sons survived, but the other one was found dead in the river 14 days later.”
The US Army has sent a note of apology to Sheikh Ahmed Yahir and his family, and paid 6,000 dollars compensation for destruction of the family car. But there has been no apology for the death of one son and the imprisonment of the other two.