Topic(s): Iraq | Comments Off on Rene — Fisk — SECRETS OF IRAQ'S DEATH CHAMBER

by Robert Fisk
The Independent
Tuesday, October 7, 2008 UK
Prisoners are being summarily executed in the government’s
high-security detention centre in Baghdad.
Like all wars, the dark, untold stories of the Iraqi conflict drain
from its shattered landscape like the filthy waters of the Tigris. And
still the revelations come.
The Independent has learnt that secret executions are being carried
out in the prisons run by Nouri al-Maliki’s “democratic” government.
The hangings are carried out regularly – from a wooden gallows in a
small, cramped cell – in Saddam Hussein’s old intelligence headquarters
at Kazimiyah.
There is no public record of these killings in what is now called
Baghdad’s “high-security detention facility” but most of the victims –
there have been hundreds since America introduced “democracy” to Iraq
– are said to be insurgents, given the same summary justice they mete
out to their own captives.
The secrets of Iraq’s death chambers lie mostly hidden from foreign
eyes but a few brave Western souls have come forward to tell of
this prison horror. The accounts provide only a glimpse into the
Iraqi story, at times tantalisingly cut short, at others gloomily
predictable. Those who tell it are as depressed as they are filled
with hopelessness.
“Most of the executions are of supposed insurgents of one kind or
another,” a Westerner who has seen the execution chamber at Kazimiyah
told me. “But hanging isn’t easy.” As always, the devil is in the
“There’s a cell with a bar below the ceiling with a rope over it and
a bench on which the victim stands with his hands tied,” a former
British official, told me last week. “I’ve been in the cell, though
it was always empty. But not long before I visited, they’d taken this
guy there to hang him. They made him stand on the bench, put the rope
round his neck and pushed him off. But he jumped on to the floor. He
could stand up. So they shortened the length of the rope and got him
back on the bench and pushed him off again. It didn’t work.”
There’s nothing new in savage executions in the Middle East – in the
Lebanese city of Sidon 10 years ago, a policeman had to hang on to
the legs of a condemned man to throttle him after he failed to die
on the noose – but in Baghdad, cruel death seems a speciality.
“They started digging into the floor beneath the bench so that the
guy would drop far enough to snap his neck,” the official said. “They
dug up the tiles and the cement underneath. But that didn’t work. He
could still stand up when they pushed him off the bench. So they just
took him to a corner of the cell and shot him in the head.”
The condemned prisoners in Kazimiyah, a Shia district of Baghdad,
are said to include rapists and murderers as well as insurgents. One
prisoner, a Chechen, managed to escape from the jail with another
man after a gun was smuggled to them. They shot two guards dead. The
authorities had to call in the Americans to help them recapture the
two. The Americans killed one and shot the Chechen in the leg. He
refused medical assistance so his wound went gangrenous. In the end,
the Iraqis had to operate and took all the bones out of his leg. By the
time he met one Western visitor to the prison, “he was walking around
on crutches with his boneless right leg slung over his shoulder”.
In many cases, it seems, the Iraqis neither keep nor release any record
of the true names of their captives or of the hanged prisoners. For
years the Americans – in charge of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison
outside Baghdad – did not know the identity of their prisoners. Here,
for example, is new testimony given to The Independent by a former
Western official to the Anglo-US Iraq Survey Group, which searched
for the infamous but mythical weapons of mass destruction: “We would
go to the interrogation rooms at Abu Ghraib and ask for a particular
prisoner. After about 40 minutes, the Americans brought in this hooded
guy, shuffling along, shackled hands and feet.
“They sat him on a chair in front of us and took off his hood. He had
a big beard. We asked where he received his education. He repeatedly
said ‘Mosul’.
Then he said he’d left school at 14 – remember, this guy is supposed
to be a missile scientist. We said: ‘We know you’ve got a PhD and
went to the Sorbonne – we’d like you to help us with information
about Saddam’s missile project’.
But I said to myself : ‘This guy doesn’t know anything ’bout fucking
missiles.’ Then it turned out he had a different name from the man
we’d asked for, he’d been picked up on the road by the Americans four
months earlier, he didn’t know why. So we said to the Americans: ‘Wrong
gentleman!’ So they put the shackles on him and took him back to his
cell and after 20 or 30 minutes, they’d bring someone else. We’d ask
him where he went to school and he told us he had never been to school.
“Wrong person again. It was a complete farce. The incompetence of the
US military was astounding, criminal. Eventually, of course, they
found the right guy and brought him in and took his hood off. He
was breathing heavily, overweight, pudgy, disoriented, a little
bit scared.”
On this occasion, the Americans had found the right man. The British
and American investigators asked the guards to remove the man’s
shackles, which they did – but then they tied one of the man’s legs
to the floor. Yes, he had a PhD.
Again, the official’s testimony: “We went through his history, what
he’d worked on – he was obviously just a minor functionary in one of
Saddam’s missile programmes. Iraqi scientists didn’t have the knowledge
how to make nuclear missiles nor did they have the financial support
necessary. It just remained in the dreams of Saddam.”
The scientist-prisoner in Abu Ghraib miserably told his captors that
he’d been arrested by the Americans after they’d knocked on his front
door in Baghdad and found two Kalashnikov rifles a woman’s hijab,
verses from the Koran and, obviously of interest to his captors,
“physics and missile textbooks on his bookshelves.” But this supposedly
valuable prisoner was never charged or previously interviewed even
though he admitted he was a rocket scientist.
“I don’t know what happened to him,” the former official told me. “I
tried to tell the UK and the US military that we’ve arrested this man
but that he’s got a wife, children, a family. I said that by locking up
this one innocent person, you’ve got 50 men radicalised overnight. No,
I don’t know what happened to him.”
For many of the investigators working for the Anglo-American
authorities in Baghdad, the trial for the crime for which the Iraqi
dictator was himself subsequently hanged was a fearful experience
that ultimately ended in disgust.
Through captured documents, they could see the dark, inner workings
of Saddam’s secret police. The idea of the Saddam trial was less to
bring members of the former regime to justice than to show Iraqis
how justice and the rule of law should operate.
“It was exhilarating to see Saddam being cross-examined,” one of the
court investigators said. “The low point was when he was executed. What
drove me on was seeing how Saddam dealt with his victims – I was
looking at a microcosm of all the deaths that had taken place in
Iraq. But when he was executed, it was done in such a savage way.”
Saddam Hussein was hanged in the same “secure” unit at Kazimiyah
where Mr al-Maliki’s people, in an echo of Saddamite Baathist terror,
now hang their victims.
Iraq The death penalty
*The death penalty in Iraq was suspended after Saddam Hussein was
deposed in 2003. It was reinstated by the interim government in
August 2004.
*The United Nations, the European Union and international human rights
organisations all spoke out against the reintroduction.
*At the time, the government claimed the death penalty was a necessary
measure until the country had stabilised. Amnesty International
claims that “the extent of violence in Iraq has increased rather than
diminished, clearly indicating that the death penalty has not proved
to be an effective deterrent.”
*Saddam, left, his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti and Iraq’s former
chief judge Awad Hamed al-Bandar were hanged at the end of 2006 for
their part in the killings of 148 people in the mainly Shia town of
Dujail in 1982. Illicit videos of all three executions later became
public. Saddam’s body could be seen on a hospital trolley, his head
twisted at 90 degrees. Barzan – Iraq’s former intelligence chief -was
decapitated by the noose. Officials said it was an accident.
*According to Amnesty, there were at least 33 executions reported in
Iraq last year. About 200 people were estimated to have been sentenced
to death.