Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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Talking to Iraqis who survived their torturers, it’s striking how many of them say they resisted giving in despite the torment. Some say religious faith kept them going, others held out, they say, because they knew to confess would be to die at the end of a rope. Others say they were simply too tough to break.
And, judging from the many thousands of executions now coming to light, most of them are probably lying. Nabil Abdul Ali, a 30-year-old man from the town of Abu Khassib, is not one of them. He was tortured and broken, and willing to admit it. So was his father, and each of his three surviving brothers, he says. Probably as a result, their fourth brother was executed, and their father died of his travails.
Torture was the rule, not the exception, in Saddam’s prisons, at least for anyone suspected of opposing the regime. Administered daily, sometimes twice daily, it was used to extract confessions, and to gain evidence about other opponents of the regime. Prisoners knew if they broke and admitted they had opposed Saddam, the result would be execution, usually the next morning. So far more often, when they could bear no more, they would simply implicate friends. Those friends would in turn implicate others. In just a single case file purloined from records of the mukhabarat, Iraq’s secret police , the arrest of Satter Jaber Meslain, a suspected member of the banned Shiite group Al Dawa, led to the implication of 54 other people over the two years of the investigation. Often this tactic only prolonged the original victim’s agony; those he implicated would end up implicating him too. In that particular 1983 case (Department of General Security, Section 45, file number 12584, record locator 507989493) all 55 were executed.
The Ali family was among 600 Shiite families rounded up in the southern town of Abu Khassib after a Shiite uprising swept the south of the country in 1999. It had been sparked by the murder in Najaf of a leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Muhammed al-Sadr, which was widely blamed on Saddam’s regime. They were imprisoned at State Security headquarters in Basra at first; later the brothers were moved to the Adult Reeducation Jail in Basra. In Nabil Ali’s own family, there were 11 persons arrested, of whom five were women and children, two of them infants. The others were Ali and his four brothers and their father. “It was an insult to even take our women into jail,” says Ali. The women weren’t tortured, except by the deplorable prison conditions, but their presence in prison was used as a threat to the men. “They would say, ‘I’m going to get your mother or sister in front of you and take off all their clothes,” Ali recalls . Another prisoner confessed, he said, after the guards raped his wife in front of them.
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