One of the major problems that the Iraqi families are going through after two years of occupation, a problem that is rarely mentioned in the media, if at all, is the case of people who disappeared during the 2003 American invasion, or after that during the occupation, whom the American authorities refuse to give any information about because they are considered dangerous, or those who are called security inmates in the American controlled prisons.
All the national and international NGOs who work(ed) in Iraq are very familiar with a reply that they always get from the American military bases or information centers, when they ask about a detainee who was arrested or disappeared in the period March 20-May 1st, 2003:
"No information about whoever was arrested before May 1st 2003", no compensations, no complains heard, nothing. On May 1st 2003, President Bush announced the end of the military operations in Iraq. It is also impossible to know any thing about those who are called security inmates, because they are the responsibility of the American Army (according to Chuck Ryan, the American officer who was responsible of the Iraq prisons late in 2003)
The disappeared may be military men, fedayeen (one who sacrifices himself for his country), or civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, although all Iraq was a (wrong place) during the invasion!! But according to the International law*, even those who were involved in the military operations, and their families, have their human rights, whether they are arrested, disappeared, wounded or killed. For two years, these families have been victims of blackmail, anxiety, suspicions, and continuous relentless search in the American information centers, HR organizations, Iraqi ministries…etc, looking for any glimpse of hope to know anything about their loved ones. One mother, was so desperate, that when heard that a friend of her son dreamt that her son is buried some where. She went to that place, dug the graves …and of course found no thing.
We just want to know
Talking to these families is diving in a sea of tears of the mothers, wives, and children. "We just want to know. They (the American) can keep our sons as long as they want, but just tell us if they are alive, and where they are" a sentence you hear from almost every body who is looking for a missing loved one.
"I would give anything, everything I own to any one who tells me about Rafid", says Ghazza A. Jamil, Um Rafid, a middle aged mother of Rafid, a young man lost on April 7, 2003.
Rafid, 19 years, left to his grand father's house at 8.20 in the morning, after the curfew was lifted, he had to cross the Suspended Bridge which leads to the Republican Palace (the Green Zone now). An hour later his family heard that the Palace was raided, so his father ran to the bridge looking for him. He could not go through because of the heavy bombing. He saw many vehicles burning on the bridge "let's pray that Rafid did not go on the Bridge" he told the mother. Next day he took a blanket (just in case he found Rafid's body) and went on foot, asked an American woman officer to let him look for his son. She did. He searched all the bodies on the ground, in the cars and buses that were destroyed or burned on the bridge, the streets, the squares on the other side, but there was no trace of Rafid. They looked for days in the hospitals, the cold boxes, the graves, the mortgage, the police offices, the American bases, the CIMCS (Civilian Information Military Centers), and the prisons. Now they had files in all the human rights organizations, the HR Ministry, ICRC, the Red Crescent…etc. They put an announcement in the newspapers and in TV, but no trace of Rafid.
On November 2003, the lawyer who was helping told them that he found Rafid's name, that he was arrested in the airport and that he was transported to Camp Bucca in May 16, 2003. When the father went down to that prison he was told that Rafid's name was not there.
The lawyer told them that he got the information from Major Coleman in the Iraqi Assistance Center. They went to see Coleman, who looked in the computer lists, found the name and told them to come back in a week. They did, but this time he sent them away again saying that he was going to call them back. He did not, but they went back again all the same, he told them that Rafid's name is not there.
A released prisoner from Abu Greib told the family that Rafid was with him until February 2004. (Many prisoners told us that they were transported from Bucca to Abu Greib and back at the beginning of 2004).
Another witness is a woman, a neighbor, who thinks that she saw Rafid, in Kut police station. She said that his hands were tied and that he tried to talk to her silently, he even tried to throw his body on her many times, but the American soldier beat him. Another witness, a prisoner, told the family that Rafid is arrested in a cellar and that there are strict American guards on that prison. He said that Rafid is injured in his leg. In one of the American Information Centers in Baghdad (Jadriya), the mother was told that may be Rafid was a fedayeen," I told them that he was not, and even if he was, does this mean that the fedayeen are not going to be released", they said yes.
What was he accused of according to the lawyer? We asked
"Of not holding personal documents"
Um Rafid was very keen on sending a message. We told her that this is not TV, but she insisted that any one who reads this story please help in looking for Rafid, and also two other young men, one is called Firas Sámi Gatti'e,b.1982, who sent a message to his mother on a cigarette box, and Seif, who sent a message on his short. Rafid's mother never stopped crying bitterly during the interview. Actually she is on the verge of a break down" I talk to street pavement, ask it did Rafid walk here? Please help me, his father is dying"
Abdul Qadir was only doing his job!!
Abdul Qadir Mohsin Mehdi, b.1948, is a chief engineer in Ministry of Oil. On April 7, 2003 he left to work early in the morning, he was told to distribute fuel on the Baghdad stations. He never returned back. Eye witnesses said that he went to Daura refinery that morning and left around noon to Shalchiya station near Buratha mosque. There was heavy bombing so he left the car and hide in the nearest fuel station with two other men, an employee in the station and another man who was caught in the bombing. Ten minutes later the two men left. According to the other man, Abdul Qadir was shot and carried away by two American soldiers in an armored vehicle.
The family looked every where, asked all the relevant ministries and organizations. Ministries of Oil, Justice, and HR asked the American authorities about him, but got the same reply, no information about the missing in April 2003.
"If he is dead, we want his body. If he is alive, we want to know, that is all" his wife says." Last Christmas a priest was talking on the BBC, he said we are celebrating while there is many prisoners in Iraq whose families do not know about them". We do not know the number; it is some where between 5 and 15 thousands. There is much talk about mass grave for the dead, these prisoners are buried in life, and these prisons are mass graves for the living. We had to wait for 23 years to find the bones in Saddam's mass graves. We do not want to wait so long to find the new mass graves. We want the bones now!! We are believers, we know that every one is going to die, but we need to know. He had nothing to do with politics, never joined a party, never had a pistol, he was only doing his job"
An eye witness saw Abdul Qadir in Bucca camp, tent 9, camp 9. There were 650 prisoners in that tent. The man told her until July 2003 they were in the airport prison and that until March 2004 her husband was ok". The family asked in Bucca camp but got no positive reply.
The family formed a team of relatives to look for Abdul Qadir. They looked every where in Baghdad for two weeks after his disappearance. They searched in the hospitals, new graves which were dug on the streets sides at that time. His son Seif, a student of computer technology talks about hills of men, women and children bodies he had to look in, they were accumulated in the hospitals gardens.
The wife went to see Nebil Khoori, a representative of the American State Department in October 2003, after he was on TV receiving people's calls. In Khoori's office she gave all the information, and they promised to call her, with many other families. They never did till this minute. The wife says there are at least 6000 missing even some fedayeen are released, why do not they release him?
Abdul Qadir's wife finds that all other problems are not priority: water, electricity, government …all could be done, but for a family who is waiting for news from a father or a son, this is the priority
Adel Has a Number, and a Document
Adel Abbass Lieby, 30, was an administrative army officer. On April 3, 2003 he was delivering salaries for a military unit in Yosifiya. He was shot on the way by the American troops and was injured. His friend Hasan saw him. He was taken to Yarmook Hospital. Hassan got all Adel's papers and documents and gave them to his family when he went to tell them about Adel. Then Adel disappeared. "I asked in a police station, the American officer told me to come in few days. I went back after 3 days; he told me that my son is in the airport prison"
We knew a translator in the airport, we asked him about Adel, after few days he said that he saw him near Ammash daughter (Huda Ammash), and that he was injured, he was sleeping on a hospital bed, with many medical tubes attached to his body. Another person called and said he saw Adel, who gave him our number to call.
A young man called Ala'a came to our house and asked for 10 million dinars to release Adel. He said that Adel was accused of being of in Saddam's Mukhabarat (intelligence). But my son in law believed that Ala'a was a swindler. In the end a doctor in the Red Cross asked for 3 million dinars, and gave us a document from the American troops saying that they found Adel, he has the number 905853. He told us about his exact address in Bucca prison and urged us to demand Adel's release because he was innocent".
But no matter how many they go there, they get no positive reply. Once the mother was threatened by an American soldier to arrest her and put the black sac on her head if she does not go away. He said that his mother has not seen him for 6 months too. Again the family sought help in all the ministries and HR organizations. "I want to see my son, that's all" his old mother said, crying "his daughter and wife want to see him"
Dhia's Car Deserted
Dhia Mahdi Ali Baqir Al-Sindy, b.1945, was a retired brigadier general in the Iraqi Army, the veterans' office. On April 7, 2003, he was driving his car near the airport highway, asking about his son in Al-Aamil district, he never returned back. He left after 8.00 am, when the curfew was lifted. The family could not reach the airport highway area because it was closed by the Americans for 10 days. On April 18 the family began the search. They found his car; it looked like Dhia deserted it because of the heavy bombing. People in the neighborhood said that they found the car empty. The family did not find any of the documents that were in it. A young man from the area who buried the dead said that all the injured were taken by the American helicopters from the scene. The family dug in the airport high way side, for a kilometer. They found hundreds of men and some women's bodies, they even found a bus full of bodies buried on the airport high way side.
"Are you talking about a mass grave?" we asked Dhia's wife.
"Yes, a coaster full of bodies buried on the side road, and there were many temporary graves with signs on or near, like a tree branch or a piece of cloth. But the people, who buried these bodies, were very keen on collecting details of the dead, so that they are easily recognized later. They did not see Dhia"
" I kept on looking every where, the military bases, the police stations, the prisons, until Sheikh M. from the Independent Tribal Sheikhs Association , told me that they found his name but did not tell me where he is. In February 2004, a POW lieutenant Leith Abdul Majeed, 30, said that he was arrested in an American military base in Qatar, and that high ranking officers were arrested in Kuwait. Both were gathered in Bucca in November 2004, presumably to be released, Leith was released, but then the Falloja attack began and everything was stopped.
A prisoner said that Dhia is in Bucca, that he was wounded in his abdomen that he is well now, he described Dhia very precisely and gave the family detailed information about him, that no one else would know. "We were even given a number, 116224, but when we checked it was not him".
"What I want to say" his wife, a retired employee in the Planning Ministry, explains " his body was not found, he is arrested by the American, because many eyewitnesses said that the injured were taken by helicopters, I demand that the American authorities give us his number, and if there is any charge against him, we are ready for any legal procedure, if he is proved to be guilty of any charge he can be sentenced, but if he is innocent, he should be released immediately".
Yassir Has Many Eyewitnesses
"Yassir is my nephew", said Abu Amjad, "one of the old detainees, he was arrested at the beginning of the occupation more than two years ago. Till now we do not have any information about him or where he is. The only information we have is which we get from ex-prisoners, those who have been released, we went every where, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, the American military bases, the Iraqi bodies…we did not get any reply or official information".
How many times we heard this sentence?!! Almost all of the missing families say it.
Yassir, b.1975, was arrested in Radhwaniya south of Baghdad, near a detergents factory; he was driving with his friend, Salah, to Salah's house on April 4, 2003, when they got near an American group who shot them. Eye witnesses from the area said that Yassir was injured in his left arm and leg, while Salah was injured in his head and arm. Both were given first aid by the American troops and taken in an armored vehicle. Salah said that they were taken by a helicopter to a military base, which could be in Yosfiya. Salah lost conscious for 12 days. When he recovered he found himself in a military hospital in Nassiriya, in a military base called Al-Imam base, south of Iraq. He asked about his friend Yassir immediately, but got no reply. From that moment till now, there is no official news about Yassir.
"A young man called Khamis Sámi came to visit us, he was arrested with Yassir in Bucca, and he confirmed that Yassir is there. But when we went there the American authorities denied. There were many families, around thousand, asking about their sons there. In June 2003 they put a list of 30 prisoners. They said that these prisoners are in Bucca and their families can visit them. Among the names was Aisar Abbass Hneihin, an officer in the Republican Guard. But father is still looking for him till now.
We kept on looking for Yassir for the last two years in almost all the American military bases and information centers. At many times the families were given information, like the family of Jasim Hussein Sultan Al-Abidy, but then they were denied.
Last year a man called Abdul Sattar Abdul Jabbar came from Basra, he came to visit us saying that he has a message from Yassir. This man said they were arrested in the airport prison for two months after the occupation, and then they were taken to Qatar where they remained until the beginning of 2004. After that they were brought to Iraq again, and kept in a prison near Basra. Many prisoners talk about a prison near Basra but not the Bucca camp. It is some where an hour away from Basra, probably on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti borders where 3-4 thousands of Iraqi prisoners are supposed to be kept. Some of them were of the Special Guards, the Republican Guards, fedayeen and civilians from all over Iraq. His eyes were covered, but he knew that the camp was called The POW Closed Camp no. 4, the Qatar group, and he said that Yassir is in this camp and he has the number of 113453. When we look in the detainees list we do not find this number. By the way, regarding the serial numbers, there few thousands missing which are the numbers beginning from 111000-115000, you do not find them in the lists. I think these are the secret numbers, because where ever we look we do not find them.
Many of the messengers from prisons hesitate to give full information about themselves, or their addresses. They give very detailed information about the prisoners from whom they get the message, which leaves no doubt that they were with him. Obviously, they are told not to give any information, but they feel that they should help the families
*see Protocol Additional to Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 (Protocol1, Article 33)
Courtesy of Dirk Adriaensens