‘Why Are They Doing This to Us?’

June 3 – He is a well-spoken, handsome lawyer, just a year older than I am. He worked as a diplomat who coordinated NGOs and foreign governments in order to bring aid to his country during the sanctions.

He was detained and accused of being a spy for Saddam Hussein, even though he is not even a Ba’athist.

He was hung from his ankles for hours in Abu Ghraib, until he passed out.

I ask him what else happened to him in there. He pulls up the legs of his trousers to show me two electrical burns on the inside of his knees, and points to two more on his elbows.

We all know the usual parts of this story: his head was bagged and hands and ankles tied too tightly, roughly thrown in an armored vehicle and driven to Baghdad Airport prison. Then to Abu Ghraib for 2 months, then to a prison in Basra, then back to Abu Ghraib for seven months.

At the Airport prison (which Iraqis refer to as Guantanamo Airport) he was interrogated five times, then ten more times at Abu Ghraib. At each place he was beaten until he passed out, forced to beat other detainees, deprived of food and water (he lost 25 kilos while in detention), offered no medical care, received threats on his life, was threatened that his wife would brought in and raped in front of him, had rats and cockroaches as cellmates. He was kept in a cell 2 meters by 1.5 meters (6′ x 4′).

Or maybe you haven’t heard all of this already …

Maybe you didn’t hear that the lead CIA man who tortured him referred to himself as “Satan.” Or that while he was praying and reading his Koran, female soldiers came in and flashed their breasts at him, then sexually humiliated and abused him.

What else is news? That there were 16 showers for 650 detainees. That there was no medical treatment, except for 30 out of 650 detainees – who were given aspirin for infections and viruses. That when he was finally allowed to use the toilet after being forced to wait for hours, soldiers would open the door on him.

Of course there is more. There is much, much more. But I’ll save that for later, because it isn’t easy to type when one’s hands are shaking.

Since he has been out he has not slept much, and he has nightmares when he does manage to catch fleeting moments of shuteye.

His home was destroyed while he was in detention.

Then there is his aunt. I interviewed her tonight as well. A kind, 55 year-old woman who used to work as an English teacher. She was detained for four months, in as many prisons: Samarra, Tikrit, one in Baghdad and of course, Abu Ghraib. She was never allowed to sleep through a night, she was interrogated, not given enough food or water, no access to a lawyer or her family. She was abused verbally and psychologically.

But that isn’t the worst part. Her 70 year-old husband was detained and beaten to death. But that took 7 months.

She’s crying as she speaks of him … as are Abu Talat (my translator) and I.

“I miss my husband,” she says, standing up and addressing the room. “I miss him so much.”

She shakes her hands as if to fling water off of them … then holds her chest and cries some more.

“Why are they doing this to us?” She doesn’t understand what is happening. Two of her sons were also detained, her family completely shattered. “We didn’t do anything wrong,” she sobs.

After a short time we walk out towards the car to leave … it is already too late to be out – well past 10 p.m. She asks us to please stay for dinner, in the midst of thanking me for my time, for listening, for writing about it all.

I am speechless.

“No, thank you, we must get home now,” says Abu Talat. We are all crying.

No words in the car as we drive toward the full moon. Finally, Abu Talat asks me, “Can you say any words? Do you have any words?”

“No,” I mumble. “No …”

Author: Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail has reported from inside Iraq and is the author of Beyond the Green Zone.