KUWAIT CITY, 3 April 2003 — Two Western journalists have arrived safely back in Kuwait City after being arrested, beaten up and deprived of food and water in Iraq — by members of the US Army’s military police.
Arab News has learned that Luis Castro and Victor Silva, both reporters working for RTP Portuguese television, were held for four days, had their equipment, vehicle and video tapes confiscated, and were then escorted out of Iraq by the 101st Airborne Division.
Despite possessing the proper “Unilateral Journalist” accreditation issued by the Coalition Forces Central Command, both journalists were detained.
Their ordeal at the hands of the Americans is in stark contrast to that received by Newsday journalists in Baghdad, who yesterday in Jordan described as “humane” their treatment at the hands of their Iraqi interrogators despite suffering various indignities. “I have covered 10 wars in the past six years — in Angola, Afghanistan, Zaire, and East Timor. I have been arrested three times in Africa, but have never been subjected to such treatment or been physically beaten before,” Castro said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.
“The Americans call themselves liberators and freedom fighters, but look what they have done to us,” he added.
Castro and Silva entered Iraq 10 days ago. They had been to Umm Qasr and Basra and were traveling to Najaf when they were stopped by the military police.
According to Castro, their accredited identification was checked and they were given the all clear to proceed.
“Suddenly, for no reason, the situation changed,” Castro told Arab News. “We were ordered down on the ground by the soldiers. They stepped on our hands and backs and handcuffed us.
“We were put in our own car. The soldiers used our satellite phones to call their families at home. I begged them to allow me to use my own phone to call my family, but they refused. When I protested, they pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the ribs and legs.”
“I believe the reason we were detained was because we are not embedded with the US forces,” he continued. “Embedded journalists are always escorted by military minders. What they write is controlled and, through them, the military feeds its own version of the facts to the world. When independent journalists such as us come around, we pose a threat because they cannot control what we write.”
After being held for four days, they were transported to the 101st Airborne Division to be escorted out of Iraq.
Castro told Arab News: “A lieutenant in charge of the military police told me, ‘My men are like dogs, they are trained only to attack, please try to understand’.”
The journalists were then transported by truck to Camp Udairi to await a helicopter transfer out of Iraq. At Camp Udairi, they told their stories to members of the US Marines.
One soldier, who Castro asked not be identified, wrote out a note, which was shown to Arab News. The note said: “I am so sorry that you had to endure such bad conditions, but remember that I care and pray you can forgive.”
“The Americans in Iraq are totally crazy and are afraid of everything that moves. I would have expected this to happen to us at the hands of the Iraqis, but not at the hands of the Americans. This is typical of the American attitude, as related to us by British forces. The attitude is ‘shoot first and ask questions later’”, Castro added.
Castro, a veteran journalist, has had all his tapes and equipment returned to him, but not his jeep.
When asked by Arab News what he intends to do next, he replied: “Return to Iraq as soon as possible to tell the truth to the world about what is happening there.”