Shocking Details on Abuse of Reuters Staffers in Iraq

NEW YORK In the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Reuters revealed on Tuesday that three Iraqis working for the company, and another Iraqi journalist working for NBC News, were seized for no reason in early January by the U.S. military and taken to a prison near Fallujah where they were subjected to physical and sexual abuse, among other forms of mistreatment. The U.S. military has denied the accusations.

E&P today obtained from Reuters a report submitted to the company’s senior editors in mid-January, less than two weeks after the journalists were detained, by Bureau Chief Andrew Marshall, who had interviewed the three staffers separately. The Reuters employees are Salem Ureibi, who has worked for the company since 1991, mainly as a cameraman; Ahmad Mohammad al-Badrani, who has worked with Reuters on a freelance basis since July 2003, shooting video; and Sattar Jabar al-Badrani, a driver.

Marshall observed in his report, “It should be noted that the bulk of their mistreatment — including their humiliating interrogations and the mental and physical torment of the first night which all agreed was the worst part of their ordeal — occurred several hours AFTER I had informed the 82nd Airborne Division that they were Reuters staff. I have e-mail proof of this.”

Reuters also made available to E&P about two dozen pages of transcripts of Marshall’s interviews with the three staffers on Jan. 8.

Here are excerpts from Marshall’s report:

“When the soldiers approached them they were standing by their car, a blue Opel. Salem Uraiby shouted ‘Reuters, Reuters, journalist, journalist.’ At least one shot was fired into the ground close to them.

“They were thrown to the ground and soldiers placed guns to their heads. Their car was searched. Soldiers found their camera equipment and press badges and discovered no weapons of any kind. Their hands were cuffed behind their backs and they were thrown roughly into a Humvee where they lay on the floor. …

“After half an hour to an hour they were transferred to a larger armored vehicle. Ahmad and Sattar (along with NBC stringer Ali who I have yet to formally interview) were thrown on the floor under the seats. …

“Once they arrived at the U.S. base (this was FOB Volturno near Fallujah) they were kept in a holding area with around 40 other prisoners in a large room with several open windows. It was bitterly cold. They were given one blanket between two. All were interrogated separately at different times and the worst treatment they suffered was on the first night when for several hours (they believe it was from around midnight until dawn) all of them were put in a room together and subjected to hours of abuse.

“Bags were alternately placed on their heads and taken off again. Deafening music was played on loudspeakers directly into their ears and they were told to dance around the room. Sometimes when they were doing this, soldiers would shine very bright torches directly into their eyes and hit them with the torches. They were told to lie on the floor and wiggle their backsides in the air to the music. They were told to do repeated press ups and to repeatedly stand up from a crouching position and then return to the crouching position.

“Soldiers would move between them, whispering things in their ear. Ahmad and Sattar did not understand what was whispered. Salem says they whispered that they wanted to have sex with him and were saying “come on, just for two minutes.”T hey also said he should bring his wife so they could have sex with her. …

“Soldiers would whisper in their ears “One, two, three…” and then shout something loudly right beside their ear. All of this went on all night. … Ahmad said he collapsed by morning. Sattar said he collapsed after Ahmad and began vomiting. …

“When they were taken individually for interrogation, they were interrogated by two American soldiers and an Arab interpreter. All three shouted abuse at them. They were accused of shooting down the helicopter. Salem, Ahmad and Sattar all reported that for their first interrogation they were told to kneel on the floor with their feet raised off the floor and with their hands raised in the air.

“If they let their feet or hands drop they were slapped and shouted at. Ahmad said he was forced to insert a finger into his anus and lick it. He was also forced to lick and chew a shoe. For some of the interrogation tissue paper was placed in his mouth and he had difficulty breathing and speaking. Sattar too said he was forced to insert a finger into his anus and lick it. He was then told to insert this finger in his nose during questioning, still kneeling with his feet off the ground and his other arm in the air. The Arab interpreter told him he looked like an elephant. …

“Ahmad and Sattar both said that they were given badges with the letter ‘C’ on it. They did not know what the badges meant but whenever they were being taken from one place to another in the base, if any soldier saw their badge they would stop to slap them or hurl abuse.

“The four were moved about half way through their detention to another camp. Because they had totally lost track of time by this stage all are hazy about exactly when this was. But according to an e-mail I received on the morning of Sunday January 4 from Captain Ryan Derouin, my point of contact at FOB Volturno who I had met in person there the day before, they were transferred at around 0900 local time on January 4 to the 3rd Brigade Detention Facility at St Mere, next to the Volturno base, for ‘further processing.’

“When they were leaving the first base, soldiers were laughing and saying ‘Cuba, Cuba.’ Ahmad and Sattar say that they were initially cuffed and had bags placed over their heads and made to lie on the ground with barbed wire all around them. They were told that if they raised their heads or touched the barbed wire it would be very dangerous for them.

“Ahmad and Sattar say that when they were finally taken into the second base, they were treated better. They were given adequate bedding and their interrogation sessions were less intense. Ahmad says at one point he was allowed to rest in a warm and comfortable tent.

“Salem, Ahmad and Sattar say that their detention ended when the numbers they were assigned were called out. …”