Sunday, June 19, 2005


Wretched survivors tell of abuse

New York Times

Marines on an operation to eliminate insurgents that began Friday night broke through the outside wall of a building in this small rural village to find a torture center equipped with electric wires, a noose, handcuffs, a 574-page jihad manual -- and four beaten and shackled Iraqis.

The U.S. military has found torture houses after invading towns heavily populated by insurgents -- like Al-Fallujah, where the anti-insurgent assault last fall uncovered almost 20 such sites. But rarely have they come across victims who have lived to tell the tale.

The men said they told the Marines, from Company K, 3rd Marines, 2nd Division, that they had been tortured with shocks and flogged with a strip of rubber for more than two weeks, unseen behind the windows of black glass. One of them, Ahmed Isa Fathil, 19, a former member of the new Iraqi army, said he had been held and tortured there for 22 days. All the while, he said, his face was almost entirely taped over and his hands were cuffed.

In an interview with a reporter just hours after he was freed, he said he had never even seen the face of his captors, who occasionally whispered at him, ``We will kill you.'' He said they did not question him, and he did not know what they wanted. Nor did he ever expect to be released.

``They kill somebody every day,'' said Fathil, whose hands were so swollen he could not open a can of Coke offered to him by a Marine. ``They've killed a lot of people.''

As the Marines walked through the house -- a squat one-story building of sand-colored brick -- the broken black window glass crunched under their boots. Light poured in, revealing the walls and ceiling shredded by shrapnel from the blast they had set off to break in through a wall. Latex gloves were strewed on the floor. A kerosene lantern lay on its side, shattered.

The manual recovered -- a fat, well-thumbed Arabic paperback -- listed itself as the 2005 First Edition of ``The Principles of Jihadist Philosophy,'' by Abdel Rahman al-Ali. Its chapters included ``How to Select the Best Hostage,'' and ``The Legitimacy of Cutting the Infidels' Heads.''

Also recovered were several fake passports, a black hood, the painkiller Percocet, handcuffs and an explosives how-to guide. Three cars loaded with explosives were parked in a garage outside the house. The Marines blew them up.

This is Fathil's account of his ordeal.

He was having a lunch of lettuce and cucumbers in the kitchen of his home in the small desert village of Rabot with his mother and brother. An Opel sedan pulled up. Two masked men carrying machine guns got out, seized him, and, leaving his mother sobbing, put him in the trunk of their car.

They drove to the house in Karabilah. They taped his face, put cotton in his ears and began to beat him.

The only possible explanation for the seizure he could think of was his time in the new Iraqi army. Unemployed and illiterate, Fathil signed up after the U.S. occupation began. But nine months ago, he quit. In all, 10 friends from his unit have been killed, he said. So have his uncle and his uncle's son, though neither ever worked as soldiers.

His captors tended to talk in whispers, he said, telling him five times a day, in low voices in his ear, to pray, and offering him sand, instead of water, to wash himself.

Fathil did not know there were other hostages. He found out only after the men left and he was able to remove the tape from his eyes.

The routine in the house was regular. Because of the windows, it was always dark inside. Fathil said he was fed once a day, and allowed to use a bathroom as necessary in the back of the house.

When Marines burst in, one of the captives was lying under a stairwell, badly beaten. At first, they thought he was dead.

The others were emaciated and battered. Fathil had fared the best, but still he had been hurt badly. Marks from beatings crisscrossed his back, and deep pocks, apparently from electric shock burns, were gouged in his skin.

Fathil has been at the Marine base south of Al-Qaim since his release Saturday. His mother still does not know he is alive.

His captors tended to talk in whispers, he said, telling him five times a day, in low voices in his ear, to pray, and offering him sand, instead of water, to wash himself.

That is really F'ed up.