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FishForLunch
05-24-2004, 03:33 PM
I know John McPain said we are better than them, but we still need to know what Saddam did versus what some of our soldier, intelligence and Supervisors did. The rest of the world and the sorry ass Arab street are more outraged by abuses of a few GI and their boses than Saddam's genocide.

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To Saddam's prisoners, US abuse seems 'a joke'
Some feel past crimes have been forgotten

By Gert Van Langendonk
Special to The Daily Star
Monday, May 24, 2004



BAGHDAD: Ibrahim al-Idrissi, 37, goes to work every day with a handgun in a holster on his hip. In most countries, the line of work Idrissi is in wouldn't require such firepower. But this is Iraq. Idrissi is the president of the Association for Free Prisoners, an Iraqi non-governmental organization that has been documenting the execution of political prisoners under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Many of Saddam's torturers and executioners are still at large. There have been two attempts on Idrissi's life, and three on the organization's headquarters in Baghdad. "Fortunately, their aim hasn't been very good so far," Idrissi says.

One year ago, the organization was still called the Committee to Free Prisoners. In the hectic days after the fall of Baghdad, when people were digging holes all over the capital looking for secret prisons, there was still hope that some of the tens of thousands of political prisoners who disappeared under Saddam's regime were still alive somewhere. That hope has vanished, says Abdul Fatah al-Idrissi, 35, Ibrahim's younger brother. "Now, our work is not about releasing prisoners anymore."

Instead, it has become about documenting the horrors of the old regime. So far, the organization has been able to confirm the execution of 147,000 prisoners by Saddam. Last year, the garden of the group's headquarters, in a villa on the bank of the Tigris River in Kahdimiya, was filled with wailing and sobbing as hundreds of families came to check the names of their missing relatives against the lists being posted on a daily basis by the Idrissis and other volunteers. The lists were based on files recovered from Saddam's security apparatus. Behind the house, hundreds of now empty filing cabinets have begun to rust.

To ensure that the public's memory of the dead does not go the way of those abandoned filing cabinets, the brothers have continued their efforts over the past year. Like all the volunteers at the Association for Free Prisoners, both of them have seen the inside of Saddam's jails. Most of their family members were arrested for their membership in the illegal Shiite Dawa Party. They can count one brother and 10 cousins among those executed. Abdul Fatah was in prison for two years; Ibrahim spent six years and three months in prison - three of which were spent in the notorious prison at Abu Ghraib.

Ibrahim Idrissi has mixed feelings about the recent uproar caused by the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib under the US occupation. "As a humanitarian organization, we oppose this," he says. "But these are soldiers who have come to Iraq to fight, not to be prison guards. It was to be expected. Of course, if there are innocent people in there ... it is possible, I guess, that some of them are innocent."

If Idrissi seems a bit callous about the fate of the Iraqis in US-run jails, he has probably earned the right to differ. He recalls a day in 1982, at the General Security prison in Baghdad:

"They called all the prisoners out to the courtyard for what they called a 'celebration.' We all knew what they meant by 'celebration.' All the prisoners were chained to a pipe that ran the length of the courtyard wall. One prisoner, Amer al-Tikriti, was called out. They said if he didn't tell them everything they wanted to know, they would show him torture like he had never seen. He merely told them he would show them patience like they had never seen."

"This is when they brought out his wife, who was five months pregnant. One of the guards said that if he refused to talk he would get 12 guards to rape his wife until she lost the baby. Amer said nothing. So they did. We were forced to watch. Whenever one of us cast down his eyes, they would beat us."

"Amer's wife didn't lose the baby. So the guard took a knife, cut her belly open and took the baby out with his hands. The woman and child died minutes later. Then the guard used the same knife to cut Amer's throat." There is a moment of silence. Then Idrissi says: "What we have seen about the recent abuse at Abu Ghraib is a joke to us."

The Idrissis, and many families like them, feel that people in Iraq have too quickly relegated the horrors of the old regime to the annals of history. "But it is not the past to us," says Idrissi. "The mother of the person who was killed, his brothers and sisters, they are alive. We are still living the nightmare every day."

On most days, Ibrahim Idrissi can be seen chasing after members of Iraq's Governing Council, begging for a little attention for Saddam's victims. So far, he has had little luck. "No self-respecting Iraqi government can afford to ignore this issue," he says. "These people have paid with their blood so that the people on the Governing Council could be in charge."

The brothers hope to get compensation for the families, who have often lost all their belongings in addition to their loved ones. One day, they hope, the executioners will be put on trial. But most of all, they want recognition for what they, and thousands of others like them, have been through. And that people would stop saying "things were better under Saddam."

"Only criminals could say such a thing. The victims deserve better than this," Idrissi concludes.