View Full Version : Bearing Wounds, Shiites Return to Torture Chamber

04-09-03, 10:32 AM
In Southern Iraq
Bearing Wounds, Shiites Return to Torture Chamber

By Susan B. Glasser
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 9, 2003; Page A01

BASRA, Iraq, April 8 -- Adnan Shaker pulled up his shirt to reveal dozens of scars crisscrossing his chest. He turned to show the marks of cigarette burns on his back. He waved his misshapen right hand, two fingers twisted and useless. He grabbed the electric wire attached to the ceiling in the cell where he lived until a few days ago, and demonstrated how his jailers had tied his hands behind his back when they administered the shocks.

His crime was participating in a Shiite Muslim uprising four years ago against Saddam Hussein's Sunni Muslim-dominated Baath Party. But when he was arrested three years ago, he would not confess to opposing Iraq's rulers. So he was charged with stealing a bag of flour, and tortured. "They put electricity into me three times a day," he said. "They just wanted me to say I was against the party."

He freely proclaimed his hatred today. "I killed seven people" in the uprising, he said.

Two days after the southern city of Basra was seized by the British military, Shaker and other former prisoners returned to their jail on the outskirts of the city. They came to celebrate and to tell their stories to anyone who would listen. They brandished identification cards and color mug shots of those they claimed died here. Shaker pointed to a Ministry of Defense identification card for an army officer named Hilal Abbas.

"This one said 'Death to Saddam,' " Shaker said. "They hanged him."

Around him, the crowd chanted their defiance of Hussein. "Yes! Yes! Bush! Yes! Yes! Bush!" they screamed. "Saddam! No! No! No!" One man grabbed a picture of Hussein and started eating it, ripping violently with his teeth. Another man took a newspaper with a photo of Hussein and slowly tore off the head.

Here then, a few weeks after they had been expected, were the scenes of Shiite rebellion that the U.S. and British military had anticipated when they rolled across the border from Kuwait last month. Emerging, too, were fragmentary firsthand accounts of human rights abuses under Hussein, stories like Shaker's that suggest how the Baath Party used repression to rule Basra.

Not all residents of this shabby port city share the freed prisoners' jubilance. As looters roamed freely through the streets in front of British tanks that made no move to stop them, those who took time to reflect today were often as ambivalent as they were relieved. Many said prisoners freed by Hussein before the war were to blame for the anarchy. Others blamed the British for occupying Basra without restoring order.

But for many, even those critical of how slow the British have been to restore order, it was a time to speak openly at last about the abuses of the Baath Party committed in Hussein's name.

At Basra Teaching Hospital, Nasser Hassan, an agricultural engineer, said the Sunni Muslims in the party had terrorized residents. "I saw many bad things myself," he said. During the Shiite rebellion in 1999, he said, he saw men being thrown from the roof of a school. "We are against Saddam," he said. "But before we cannot say anything opposite Saddam Hussein. They would kill us."

Hassan was at the hospital because his 2-year-old daughter lay in a coma after being injured when several coalition bombs fell on their house. He said he did not blame the British for her grave injury, but rather the members of Saddam's Fedayeen militia who hid in civilian areas.

As he spoke, Hassan's daughter moved slightly on her bed. Her eyes fluttered, but she did not regain consciousness. "Yes, people believe Saddam is no more, he is gone," Hassan said.

British goals for the occupation of Basra are lofty, even if the ability to execute them is limited. "Ultimately, what we have to do is replace what they've been fighting to protect with something better," said Maj. Kevin Oliver, whose company of commandos first stormed Hussein's apparently unoccupied summer palace here.

Today, the palace qualifies as a luxury barracks for war-weary British troops, some of whom were playing Scrabble in their underwear this afternoon as others showed off the sun shower they had rigged up in a marble bathroom with no running water but gold fixtures on the toilet.

"It's a striking thing," Oliver said of Hussein's palace. "He's prepared to have such opulence while these other people are living so desperately. . . . They're so desperate they're looting anything they find -- they are literally looting rubbish."

At the prison where Shaker and others returned today, there was nothing left to loot, just stacks of documents in a few front-room offices and leftover implements that the men there said had been used to torture them.

They were freed just two days ago from a jail that was once an "adult house of reeducation" but was taken over after the Shiite uprising that swept southern Iraq in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. The uprising was harshly repressed here. Now the building is known as the "jail for adult reeducation."

Liberation, when it came on a hot Sunday morning, was sudden. "They locked us inside and the police fled," Shaker said. "There was shouting. They said, 'Our brothers come, our brothers come.' "

Shaker said he was 32 years old and had four hungry children at home. He said he used to work selling food for donkeys. But he is not yet thinking about the future, about what it means to have British tanks in the street outside the prison where he lived. He is still thinking about the past and how he wants to come to terms with it. "I want to kill all Baathis, I want to kill Saddam," he said.

Other former prisoners also traced their detention to repression of Shiites by the Sunni-dominated government. In 1999, riots broke out in response to news reports that Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, a prominent Shiite cleric in the holy city of Najaf, had been shot to death with his two sons. "So we started jihad against Sunni," Shaker said.

He pulled a small stone from his pocket, the stone used by devout Muslims to bow their heads against during their five daily prayers. "That is how they know we are Shiite," he said. "From the prayer stone." In the prison, the jailers often talked about politics. "They used to say, 'Long live Saddam,' " Shaker said. When he did not join in, he said, "they tortured me more."

Another prisoner who had returned was Ali Nasser, 16. He said he had come to this place more than six months ago. Smaller than his years would suggest, he did not answer directly when asked why he was arrested. An older man answered for him: "Because he was Shiite and he went to pray."

2003 The Washington Post Company