America’s Gulag for Iraq’s VIP Prisoners

Each prisoner receives six pints of dank, tepid water a day. He uses it to wash and drink in summer noonday temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius.

He is not allowed to wash his clothes’. He is provided with a small cup of delousing powder to deal with the worst of his body infestation.

For the slightest infringement of draconian rules he is forced to sit in painful positions. If he cries out in protest his head is covered with a sack for lengthy periods.

This is daily life in America’s shameful Gulag – Camp Cropper on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport.

Only the International Red Cross are allowed inside. They are forbidden to describe what they see.

But some of its staff have broken ranks – to tell Amnesty International of the shocking conditions the 3000 Iraqi prisoners are held under.

None had been charged with any offence. They are listed as suspected “looters” and “rioters”. Or listed as “loyal to Saddam Hussein”.

Every day more prisoners are crowded into the broiling, dusty compound.

Surrounded by ten-foot high razor wire, they live in tents that are little protection against the blistering sun. They sleep eighty to a tent on wafer thin mats.

Each prisoner has a long-handled shovel to dig his own latrine. Some are too old or weak to dig the ordered depth of three feet. Others find they have excavated pits already used.

The over-powering stench in this hell-hole is suffocating.

“Add to sleep deprivation and physical abuse you have highly degrading conditions which are tantamount to torture and gross abuse of human rights” said Curt Goering, deputy director of Amnesty International, the London-based human rights watchdog.

He confirmed that Amnesty had received “credible reports” of detainees which had died in custody, “mostly as a result of shooting by members of the coalition forces”.

Camp Cropper also houses a growing number of what are listed as “special prisoners”.

They include the former deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, Saadiun Hammadi, the former speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, and Ezzar Ibrahim, the son of Saddam’s second in command on the Revolutionary Command Council.

The one woman “special” is Huda Ammash – known as “Chemical Sally”, because a key member of Saddam’s chemical and biological weapons programme.

The week before he committed suicide, Dr David Kelly, the English scientist, had prepared a list of questions he planned to put to her when he returned to Iraq to assist in the search for weapons of mass destruction.

Chemical Sally sleeps in a tent with other women members of the Ba’ath party. Like the men they are not allowed to wash their underwear – and several have developed unsightly sores, according to a Red Cross visitor.

After two months incarceration none of the “special prisoners” have been told what charges they will face – though several, like Tariq Aziz, then had surrendered voluntarily to the Americans.

A glimpse of his life nowadays has come from one of the few prisoners to be released, Adnan Jassim.

“Tariq Aziz has aged very much in the past months in the camp. He shuffles and has a stoop. This may because he has to dig his own toilet hole. It is forbidden for anyone to help him to do this. He is treated just like anyone else – an animal to be driven wherever the guards want him.

“His hair has grown. It is very dirty. He gets no special treatment. The same terrible food. Mostly he eats very little of it. It is hard to believe he was, second to Saddam, the most powerful man in Iraq”.

Jassim was arrested the day after the war officially ended. He insists, according to a Red Cross official, that he was stopped for speeding.

“The Americans just fired at my car. Then they threw me into a truck and took me to the camp. At the gate I had a badge pinned to my shirt. It said’ presumed killer’. I have never even fired a gun, let alone kill anyone”, Jassim insisted.

Amnesty’s human rights workers and Red Cross officials have gathered statements from the few prisoners who have been released.

One is Qays al Salman, a 54-year-old guard at one of Saddam’s palaces. He claims: “One day we became so angry that all the man in my tent began shouting, ‘Freedom, freedom!’ The soldiers rushed in, tied us up and forced us to lie down in the middle of the day in the open. Some of us had bad sun stroke.

Other detainees, like Suheil Laibbi Mohammed, who used to work as a mechanic, repairing Saddam’s fleet of cars, said he had seen prisoners repeatedly hit with riffle butts”.

Detainees described being given food as inedible to Muslims. Most of the meat was pork. “But it was either eat it or starve”, said Rafed Adel Mehdi.

Tariq Aziz’s wife, Zureida, and his two sons fled to Jordan when the war ended.

In London their family lawyer, Dr Abdul Haq al-Ani, wants to serve a writ of habeas corpus on Britain’s embattled Defence Secretary, Geoff Hoon, arguing that his client is being held in contravention of the Geneva Convention and the Human Rights Act.

“I spent a week in Baghdad but I was not allowed to see my client. I know the conditions he is being held under from those who have been released. It is outrageous what is happening”, he said.

Chemical Sally’s family are also planning legal moves to have her freed.

They have submitted evidence to the Americans that she has breast cancer and requires to continue with her medical treatment.

Her mother, Kasmah Ammash, a frail 70-year-old said: “My daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer in the late Eighties. She went to Pittsburgh for chemotherapy and underwent a mastectomy. Before she was arrested she was undergoing further follow up treatment. How can they be so cruel”.

Amnesty International said it had urged the coalition forces to look into such allegations – and to bring to justice those found guilty of offences.

“The Americans have acknowledged there are some serious problems. But there is a difference of opinion on what laws apply”, said Mr Goering.

Nada Doumani, the International Red Cross spokesman in Baghdad said “we never comment on the conditions at the detention centers”.

“The Geneva Convention is clear about the obligations that exist for legal advice and visits. If someone is being held as a POW then there is a legal obligation to allow them access to legal advice. But if they are held as a civilian detainee that does not apply. A tribunal has been set up to decide which category each person in the camp fits into. Until their work is complete we can say no more”.

A spokesman for Lt-General Ricardo Sanchez, the coalition forces commander in Iraq, said he could not give a time frame when the tribunal’s work will be completed.

ends

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Courtesy Raja Mattar