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Victim Recounts Iraqi Police Torture

Karen Button

tort-06-10.jpg

picture (Iraqi League): victim of the Iraqi Security Forces - Abou-Deshir, December 2005


April 13, 2007

Ala’a Emad Al-Dulaimi, a young man in his early twenties, sits in the living room of a friend’s house in a quiet Damascus neighborhood as he retells the nightmare of his arrest almost a year ago. The intensity of Al-Dulaimi’s experience is palpable, though his face remains dispassionate throughout most of the two hours it takes to detail the complicated maze of his encounter with Iraq’s corrupt justice system—one in which bribes and torture are so common even Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged them prior to his resignation.

In early 2005 Human Rights Watch reported that torture and abuse by Iraqi authorities were "routine and commonplace." The Al-Maliki government promised reforms, but in July last year the Los Angeles Times reported Iraqi Interior Ministry investigations revealed over 400 incidents of police misconduct, which included "the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings." Most went unpunished.

In an apparent step towards addressing the problem, the Iraqi government in November filed charges for the first time against 57 members of the police force. They are charged with torturing hundreds of detainees at a prison in eastern Baghdad.

However, in more recent events, Mr. Al-Maliki dismissed an investigation in less than 24 hours after Iraqi security forces were accused of rape in February. Instead, the government then charged that the woman, Sabrine Al-Janabi, was a wanted criminal and issued an arrest warrant against her and would "reward" the officers. Al-Janabi was arrested in mid-March and there have been no reports of her since.

Also in March, when Iraqi Special Forces and British forces discoverd an Iraqi intelligence facility in Basra used to torture detainees and produce bomb-making equipment, Mr. Al-Maliki criticized the operation for lacking authority. Instead of investigating the alleged crimes, he ordered an investigation into the forces "who have carried out this illegal and irresponsible act."

It was just last May that Al-Dulaimi was on his way to the College of Computer Sciences at Mustansariya University in Baghdad when his life took an irreversible turn, which halted his studies and nearly his life.

His story highlights the rampant corruption within Iraq’s security forces, but also its collusion between different governmental agencies.

Driving by taxi to his university on a Tuesday morning, Al-Dulaimi explains, "we traveled through the Adhamiya neighborhood and there had been some troubles. As a result, one side of the street was blocked, allowing only one lane of traffic. At that point, I saw a car approaching us head-on very fast. The taxi driver immediately stopped." Concerned that his new taxi was about to be taken, the driver fired a shot in the air as a warning, says Al-Dulaimi.

"I had been studying and not really paying attention, so when I heard the gunshot I was shocked. Then I saw the other driver get out of his car with a gun and he fired a shot that went over our car. The taxi driver put it in reverse and tried to run away from the whole scene."

Things happened quickly after that.

"The taxi driver was so afraid, and since there was heavy traffic he went down a side street. At this point security forces began to chase us," Al-Dulaimi explains. "As it happened, the side street was also blocked, so it became a dead-end. We were trapped and security forces began firing heavily at us. Bullets penetrated the car. We both jumped out of the taxi with our hands up and froze.

"The ING (Iraqi National Guard) surrounded us and began beating us severely. They threw me to the ground and they hit the taxi driver in the head with a pistol. He was bleeding heavily when the police and the FPS (Facility Protection Services, in this case working as guards for the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs) also showed up. The three forces then began fighting each other for control of us. The police said: we were chasing them. The FPS said: no, they were attacking us because it happened in front of our ministry building.

"The police and the FPS eventually grabbed us and took us to the ministry with the ING still arguing.

"They put us in a small room where we were handcuffed and our ankles shackled. Ten people then came into the room and began shouting at us. 'Why did you shoot the other car? What did you want from them? Where are you from? What political party are you from? Are you from some armed group?’

"That lasted about 15 minutes and then some others came, asking the same questions. But these men, if they didn’t like our answers, would hit us."

Finally, Al-Dulaimi says, a man dressed in civilian clothes—a tracksuit and sweater—entered the room. The other men addressed him as Said. "His eyes were full of sparks. He sat down, took a pistol and put it on his knees and began shouting at me, 'you will talk or I will break your knees!’ I became hysterical at this point and I began shouting back, 'I’m a college student! I have nothing to hide!’"

Seemly convinced, Said left. Meanwhile, in an apparent attempt to regain control of Al-Dulaimi and the taxi driver, three men from the Iraqi National Guard arrived and took the two men to a vehicle waiting outside the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

"They pushed us into a pickup truck, with a machine gun mounted on top. The exit gates were closed and one of the soldiers began shooting and yelling, 'open the gates!’ But Said came running out and slapped the soldier, yelling at him, 'why are shooting, you could hurt someone!’ He yanked us out of the pickup and took us back into the room.

"Then the police came and put us in their car. This time, they put a bag over my head and blindfolded the taxi driver with his shirt. They took us to the Sleikh Police Station (in Adhamiya) and separated us in two cells. I still didn’t know what the charges against me were.

"At this point they began interrogating me in a room while I was blindfolded and handcuffed on the floor. 'Tell us the truth! Why were you shooting!’ they would yell. I kept telling them I was just a student on my way to university. An officer named Captain Ala’a shouted that I was lying and he began beating me. He demanded to know what political party I belonged to, and if I was a terrorist from some group like Al-Qaida.

"This process lasted ten days. Each day they interrogated me twice and would beat me severely while I was blindfolded. Sometimes Captain Ala’a would provoke me, saying, 'your partner told us what you’re really doing!’ At other times he was nice and would ask, 'why are you ruining your future? All you need to do is tell us about your partner and we’ll let you go. Just testify on anything. You’re from Adhamihya where there’s so many against the Americans, just tell us something and we’ll let you go!’

"I became very desperate because during these ten days I was beaten in many different ways. I was hung from a ceiling fan with my hands tied behind me. They would tie each hand to the opposite foot (a position called the Scorpion) and hang me. Then they would beat the bottoms of my feet—they call this the al-falaka torture. At one point I became hysterical and began insulting Captain Ala’a. He asked, 'are you trying to provoke me?’ And then he swung me from the fan, which cracked some bones."

During this time, Al-Dulaimi says, the beatings were quite severe. "When I was taken to be interrogated I would walk, but when I came back they would have to carry me back in a blanket. The began a new style of the al-falaka and started beating me on my knees, elbows and back."

After ten days, the jailers pulled Al-Dulaimi out of his cell and told him that Mohammed, the taxi driver, had confessed. "They told me, 'your friend has testified against you and that you looted 30 cars, were ambushing the Americans, killing ING, and you belong to the resistance.’"

"Of course, I denied all these statements against me and they beat me for two solid days right in my cell. I was desperate and so tired I finally gave in and said I was ready to approve anything. 'I have nothing to say, but if you have some statement, I’m ready to sign,’ I told them.

"I signed that I was involved in looting, kidnapping, planning to murder someone, and that I had joined the insurgency. These were the accusations I was forced to sign. And after I had signed, no one came to beat me anymore.

"At that point they put me with Mohammed, who was in a large cell with other prisoners and I learned what had really happened."

Mohammed, who had never received medical care for his head would, was also severely beaten. When they put him on a balcony and threatened to push him off, Mohammed caved and said he would testify. Yet, instead of taking a statement, they put him back in his cell and took Al-Dulaimi instead.

"Finally, I was taken to a judge to approve the statement. Thinking I was safely outside the realm of the police, I denied all the statements. I told him, 'I can undress and show you all the signs of torture, because they never hit me on my face. And, I asked the judge for a lawyer. 'Don’t you have one,’ he asked. 'No,’ I told him, 'even my family doesn’t know where I am and if I’m dead or alive.’

"When I told the judge this, because it was 6pm on Friday, he told an officer to put me back in my cell to wait for a lawyer.

"The officer put me put me in a room I’d never seen before. Again I was blindfolded and handcuffed and three guys came in and began beating me severely. 'What have you said in front of the judge?’ they demanded. 'I said nothing,’ I pleaded. 'Then why did Captain Ala’a say he wanted you semi-dead?’ they answered.

"They hit me on the face very hard and made my left ear so I couldn’t hear from it for a long time and when I washed for the prayers, the water would kill me.

"Captain Ala’a came back after I was beaten. 'Did you get your discipline?’ he asked me. 'Yes,’ I answered. 'Will you approve the statement to the judge?’ When I answered yes again, they put me back in the cell.

"The next day I was put in front of a different judge. Again it was a holiday and after 6pm. This judge gave me an attorney who had been provided by the government.

"The judge asked if the statements were correct. I told him yes, because I was too afraid to say no. Unconvinced, the judge told me, 'you’re twenty years old and a student. It doesn’t seem that you would be doing all these things.’ But I was so tired and in pain, so I just said, 'yes, I did do all these things.’

"Then they put me back in the cell and left me alone.

"For the first three days, I begged an officer for a call to my parents, and finally I was allowed."

Relieved to hear from their missing son, the family hired a private attorney, yet were still not allowed to see Al-Dulaimi for a month.

The government attorney took the case to an investigative judge, Mohammed Oudae Al-Dahab, but when judge’s reporter told the family he knew an attorney who was a relative of the judge and would have influence over the case, they decided to give it a try.

"I know how it sounds, but this attorney, Ahmed Faleh, was a partner in the judge’s office. I swear!"

Faleh then took Dulaimi’s papers to Al-Dahab and asked if the case was winnable before agreeing to take the case. When Al-Dahab said it was, the family agreed to hire Faleh for $10,000, giving him a retainer of $5,000. Al-Dulaimi says Faleh promised to return the money if the case didn’t win. "This was for myself and Mohammed, as our cases were together. He couldn’t afford an attorney and my family just wanted me released.

"My family then asked the judge for me to be taken to a medical committee to document the torture and the judge approved the request. The medical committee was amazed at my injuries. 'Are these new?’ they asked me, and I told them, no, they were from May and I hadn’t yet recovered."

The medical report, dated 5 July and signed by three doctors from the Baghdad Morgue Institute, states Al-Dulaimi had severe discoloration of the skin on his left arm, legs and back. The document states the injuries are commensurate with those made from "either a stick or a cable."

When the case was finally brought before the court, the insurgency charge had been dropped, leaving three—kidnapping, looting, and planning a murder. "After the judge read the medical report," Al-Dulaimi continues, "he announced, 'if this is how the police are treating detainees, let me investigate them.’ He said he wanted to have a judicial discussion on the issue, and because of the medical report, the first three charges were dropped.

"The attorney then called my father and wanted more money. When my father met Faleh at his office he demanded $20,000. With the $5,000 he was already paid, he was really asking for $25,000. My father said we couldn’t afford it and asked him to leave the case. Faleh refused to give back the $5,000.

"At this point the judge began to hate us because he realized he wasn’t going to make any money. So, instead of releasing us we were told that our case should go before the Supreme Court and we were sent back to jail for another month and a half. The Supreme Court took each charge separately, which took time, but all three were dropped."

Unbelievably though, the Supreme Court judge then began a new case against Al-Dulaimi and Mohammed for having a weapon without a permit and they were sent back to jail.

"When the first officer who had beaten me, Captain Ala’a, saw me back there he said he would bring the fourth charge—belonging to the insurgency—against me if I didn’t pay him $7,500. Fortunately, my family was able to pay it and all the charges were dropped."

After nearly seven months and paying $12,500 in what amounts to extortion fees, Al-Dulaimi was finally released on the 25th of November. His university studies ruined and his life destroyed, Al-Dulaimi fled to Syria in January where he is now trying to enter college and forget what happened to him in the new Iraq.

When asked if he fears reprisals for naming those who committed the abuses against him Al-Dulaimi replies that his family, with whom he’s now separated because of the incident, are safe in an undisclosed location.

"As for me," he declares angrily, "no, I don’t care. After what they did to me, what else can they do? They destroyed everything!"


:: Article nr. 32102 sent on 14-apr-2007 02:58 ECT

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