Affadavit from an Abu Ghraib prisoner
Ali Shalal Abbas, a former prisoner at Abu Ghraib, has submitted an affidavit under oath in Malaysia about his brutal treatment at the prison. Last year he was widely identified as the hooded prisoner seen in the photo he is holding here. Although significant doubt was raised subsequently about that identification (I postpone discussion of that until the end), it's certain that he was held in Abu Ghraib at the time. His testimony may have credibility, then, and on that presumption, I agree with journalist Helena Cobban that it ought to be widely discussed. She deserves credit incidentally for drawing attention to the affidavit.
Ali Shalal's testimony is grim. Skip down toward the end if you have a weak stomach.
The text of Ali Shalal's affidavit was posted yesterday at a well established Iraqi blog, A family in Baghdad. As far as I can determine (I cannot vouch for the posts there in Arabic), the poster and the blog are credible. Also, it's clear that the text posted at the blog is also the one under discussion in the slides on display at this "Criminalizing War" conference in Kuala Lumpur twelve days ago. One photo there indicates that Ali Shalal signed his affidavit before the Malaysian Commissioner of Oaths on either the 3rd or 8th of February, where it was deposited with the War Crimes Commission.
Here are the most significant parts of Ali Shalal's affidavit:
7. After two days, they transferred me to the Abu Ghraib prison. The first thing they did to me was to make a physical examination of my body and abused me. Together with other detainees, we were made to sit on the floor and were dragged to the interrogation room. This so called room is in fact a toilet (approximately 2m by 2m) and was flooded with water and human waste up to my heel level. I was asked to sit in the filthy water while the American interrogator stood outside the door, with the translator.
8. After the interrogation, I would be removed from the toilet, and before the next detainee is put into the toilet, the guards would urinate into the filthy water in front of the other detainees.
9. The first question they asked me was, “Are you a Sunni or Shiia?” I answered that this is the first time I have been asked this question in my life. I was surprised by this question, as in Iraq there is no such distinction or difference. The American interrogator replied that I must answer directly the questions and not to reply outside the question. He then said that in Iraq there are Sunnis, Shiias and Kurds.
10. The interrogators wore civilian clothes and the translator, an Afro-American wore American army uniform.
11. When I answered that I am an Iraqi Muslim, the interrogator refused to accept my answer and charged me for the following offence:
(a) That I am anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic.
(b) I supported the resistance
(c) I instigated the people to oppose the occupation
(d) That I knew the location of Osama bin Ladin
I protested and said that Muslims and Jews descended from the same historical family. I said that I could not be in the resistance because I am a disabled person and have an injured hand.
The hooded man in the photograph above has an injured (right) hand as well. Helena Cobban has interesting comments about reasons why he might be asked whether he is Shia etc.
14. When I did not cooperate, the interrogator asked me whether I considered the American army as “liberator” or “occupier”. When I replied that they were occupiers, he lost his temper and threatened me. He told me that I would be sent to Guantanamo Bay where even animals would not be able to survive...
18. The living conditions in the camp were very bad. Each tent would have 45 to 50 detainees and the space for each detainee measured only 30cm by 30cm. We had to wait for 2 to 3 hours just to go to the toilets. There was very little water. Each tent was given only 60 litres of water daily to be shared by the detainees. This water was used for drinking and washing and cleaning the wounds after the torture sessions. They would also make us to stand for long hours.
19. Sometimes, as a punishment, no food is given to us. When food is given, breakfast is at 5.00 am, lunch is at 8.00 am and dinner at 1.00 pm. During Ramadhan, they bring food twice daily, first at 12.00 midnight and the second is given during fasting time to make the detainees break the religious duty of fasting.
20. During my captivity in the camp, I was interrogated and tortured twice. Each time I was threatened that I would be sent to Guantanamo Bay prison. During this period, I heard from my fellow detainees that they were tortured by cigarette burns, injected with hallucinating chemicals and had their rectum inserted with various types of instruments, such as wooden sticks and pipes. They would return to the camp, bleeding profusely. Some had their bones broken.
21. In my camp, I saw detainees brought over from a secret prison which I came to know later as being housed in the “Arabian Oil Institute” building, situated in the north of Baghdad. These detainees were badly injured.
22. After one month and just before sunset my number was called and they put a bag over my head and my hands were tied behind my back. My legs were also tied. They then transferred me to a cell.
23. When I was brought to the cell, they asked me in Arabic to strip but when I refused, they tore my clothes and tied me up again. They then dragged me up a flight of stairs and when I could not move, they beat me repeatedly. When I reached the top of the stairs, they tied me to some steel bars. They then threw at me human waste and urinated on me.
24. Next, they put a gun to my head and said that they would execute me there. Another soldier would use a megaphone to shout at me using abusive words and to humiliate me. During this time, I could hear the screams of other detainees being tortured. This went on till the next morning.
25. In the morning, an Israeli stood in front of me and took the bag from my head and told me in Arabic that he was an Israeli had interrogated and tortured detainees in Palestine. He told me that when detainees would not cooperate, they would be killed. He asked me repeatedly for names of resistance fighters. I told him that I do not know any resistance fighters but he would not believe me, and continued to beat me.
26. This Israeli dressed in civilian clothes tortured me by inserting in turn first with a jagged wooden stick into my rectum and then with the barrel of a rifle. I was cut inside and bled profusely. During this time, when any guard walked past me, they would beat me. I had no food for 36 hours.
27. The next morning, the Israeli interrogator came to my cell and tied me to the grill of the cell and he then played the pop song, “By the Rivers of Babylon” by Pop Group Boney M, continuously until the next morning. The effect on me was that I lost my hearing, and I lost my mind. It was very painful and I lost consciousness. I only woke up when the Israeli guard poured water on my head and face. When I regain consciousness, he started beating me again and demanded that I tell him of the names of resistance fighters and what activities that I did against the American soldiers. When I told him that I did not know any resistance fighters, he kicked me many times.
There have been accusations in the past that Israelis took part in interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Though at first the allegation struck me as somewhat improbable, the state of the evidence by now is strong enough that I'd venture to say it is credible though not proven. Here is a report from the BBC from 2004:
Gen Karpinski was in charge of the military police unit that ran Abu Ghraib and other prisons when the abuses were committed. She has been suspended but not charged.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she met a man claiming to be Israeli during a visit to an intelligence centre with a senior coalition general.
"I saw an individual there that I hadn't had the opportunity to meet before, and I asked him what did he do there, was he an interpreter - he was clearly from the Middle East," she said in the interview.
"He said, 'Well, I do some of the interrogation here. I speak Arabic but I'm not an Arab; I'm from Israel.'"
Until a 1999 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court, Israeli secret service interrogators were allowed to use "moderate force".
The US journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib scandal told the programme his sources confirm the presence of Israeli intelligence agents in Iraq.
Seymour Hersh said that one of the Israeli aims was to gain access to detained members of the Iraqi secret intelligence unit, who reportedly specialise in Israeli affairs.
For more on Israeli connections to CACI, see this from the Daily Star. It is also possible, of course, that American interrogators were passing themselves off as Israelis as part of their mind games.
For what it is worth, the Israeli government denied any involvement in Abu Ghraib. Their long record of abusing Palestinian prisoners is too well known to merit discussion here.
Back to Ali Shalal's affidavit:
28. I was kept in the cell without clothes for two weeks. During this time, an American guard by the name of “Grainer” accompanied by a Moroccan Jew called Idel Palm (also known as Abu Hamid) came to my cell and asked me about my bandaged hand which was injured before I was arrested. I told him that I had an operation. He then pulled the bandage which stained with blood from my hand and in doing so, tore the skin and flesh from my hands. I was in great pain and when I asked him for some pain killers, he stepped on my hands and said “this is American pain killer” and laughed at me.
29. On the 15th day of detention, I was given a blanket. I was relieved that some comfort was given to me. As I had no clothes, I made a hole in the centre of the blanket by rubbing the blanket against the wall, and I was able to cover my body. This is how all the prisoners cover their bodies when they were given a blanket.
30. One day, a prisoner walked past my cell and told me that the interrogators want to speed up their investigation and would use more brutal methods of torture to get answers that they want from the prisoners. I was brought to the investigation room, after they put a bag over my head. When I entered the investigation room, they remove the bag from my head to let me see the electrical wires which was attached to an electrical wall socket.
31. Present in the room was the Moroccan Jew, Idel Palm, the Israeli interrogator, two Americans one known as “Davies” and the other “Federick” and two others. They all wore civilian clothes, except the Americans who wore army uniforms. Idel Palm told me in Arabic that unless I cooperated, this would be my last chance to stay alive. I told him that I do not know anything about the resistance. The bag was then placed over my head again, and left alone for a long time. During this time, I heard several screams and cries from detainees who were being tortured.
32. The interrogators returned and forcefully placed me on top of a carton box containing can food. They then connected the wires to my fingers and ordered me to stretch my hand out horizontally, and switched on the electric power. As the electric current entered my whole body, I felt as if my eyes were being forced out and sparks flying out. My teeth were clattering violently and my legs shaking violently as well. My whole body was shaking all over.
33. I was electrocuted on three separate sessions. On the first two sessions, I was electrocuted twice, each time lasting few minutes. On the last session, as I was being electrocuted, I accidentally bit my tongue and was bleeding from the mouth. They stop the electrocution and a doctor was called to attend to me. I was lying down on the floor. The doctor poured some water into my mouth and used his feet to force open my mouth. He then remarked, “There is nothing serious, continue!” Then he left the room. However, the guard stopped the electrocution as I was bleeding profusely from my mouth and blood was all over my blanket and body. But they continued to beat me. After some time, they stopped beating me and took me back to my cell.
34. Throughout the time of my torture, the interrogators would take photographs.
35. I was then left alone in my cell for 49 days. During this period of detention, they stopped torturing me. At the end of the 49th day, I was transferred back to the camp, in tent C and remained there for another 45 days. I was informed by a prisoner that he over heard some guards saying that I was wrongly arrested and that I would be released.
36. I was released in the beginning of March 2004. I was put into a truck and taken to a highway and then thrown out. A passing car stopped and took me home.
The techniques Ali Shalal describes here are all too familiar by now: degradation; stress; fear; sexual humiliation; disorientation; infantilization; arbitrary treatment; beatings; deprivation of food and sleep; hypothermia; dehumanization. And, shamefully, the refusal of any military personnel or even doctors to uphold the most basic standards of treatment.
His account is one of the fullest public statements yet by a victim at Abu Ghraib. One of the main goals of interrogators in the torture regimen promulgated by Bush & Co. is to trample the victim's dignity and will to resist. Humiliating acts (and the photographing of them) are intended to leverage compliance more or less permanently in the future. Here is what he said last year to the NYT on the subject:
The prisoners were sleep deprived, he said, and the punishments they faced ranged from bizarre to lewd: an elderly man was forced to wear a bra and pose; a youth was told to hit the other adults; and groups of men were organized in piles. There was the dreaded "music party," he said, in which prisoners were placed before loudspeakers. Mr. Qaissi also said he had been urinated on by a guard. Then there were the pictures.
"Every soldier seemed to have a camera," he said. "They used to bring us pictures and threaten to deliver them to our families"
Compare as well this story of another innocent Iraqi finally released by the US from detention, from the NYT today:
Mr. Ani said, he was brought to a table for one last step. He was handed a form and asked to place a check mark next to the sentence that best described how he had been treated:
“I didn’t go through any abuse during detention,” read the first option, in Arabic.
“I have gone through abuse during detention,” read the second.
In the room, he said, stood three American guards carrying the type of electric stun devices that Mr. Ani and other detainees said had been used on them for infractions as minor as speaking out of turn.
“Even the translator told me to sign the first answer,” said Mr. Ani, who gave a copy of his form to The New York Times. “I asked him what happens if I sign the second one, and he raised his hands,” as if to say, Who knows?
“I thought if I don’t sign the first one I am not going to get out of this place.”
Shoving the memories of his detention aside, he checked the first box and minutes later was running through a cold rain to his waiting parents. “My heart was beating so hard,” he said. “You can’t believe how I cried.”...
After his release from the American-run jail, Camp Bucca, Mr. Ani and other former detainees described the sprawling complex of barracks in the southern desert near Kuwait as a bleak place where guards casually used their stun guns and exposed prisoners to long periods of extreme heat and cold; where prisoners fought among themselves and extremist elements tried to radicalize others; and where detainees often responded to the harsh conditions with hunger strikes and, at times, violent protests.
Through it all, Mr. Ani was never actually charged with a crime; he said he was questioned only once during his more than two years at the camp.
American interrogators don't care to release anybody from these gulags if there's a realistic chance that the brutal facts of their behavior will become public. Humiliating prisoners so thoroughly as to crush their will to retaliate is their preferred method for ensuring silence.
So it is not surprising that few victims have the courage to make public statements, to humiliate themselves again before the world in order to take on their torturers. If Ali Shalal's testimony is accurate, then he deserves credit for going public when he might have retreated into obscurity.
The credibility of Ali Shalal
Perhaps I should have begun rather than ended here, but assessing the victim's credibility is a convoluted problem. There seems to be little doubt that he was tortured while at Abu Ghraib. The main question that hangs over his testimony is whether he is a self-promoter who might embroider or invent refinements to the tortures that US troops actually inflicted upon him. I think all readers will have to determine that for themselves.
The main allegations against Ali Shalal's credibility are that (i) he did not initially allege that he'd suffered electrical shocks; (ii) the US military identified another Iraqi as the hooded man in the photo; (iii) when that man vanished, Ali Shalal began promoting himself as the hooded man; (iv) when the discrepancy was pointed out, he said he was treated identically to the hooded man (whoever he is); (v) the US military denies that more than one prisoner was treated that way.
Here are two reports to consider. Last year several news outlets including the NYT reported that Ali Shalal was the hooded man in the picture. A few days afterward however, when Salon challenged the identification based upon the US Army's own findings, the Times retracted its identification.
In the summer of 2004, a group of former detainees of Abu Ghraib prison filed a lawsuit claiming that they had been the victims of the abuse captured in photographs that incited outrage around the world.
One, Ali Shalal Qaissi, soon emerged as their chief representative, appearing in publications and on television in several countries to detail his suffering. His prominence made sense, because he claimed to be the man in the photograph that had become the international icon of the Abu Ghraib scandal: standing on a cardboard box, hooded, with wires attached to his outstretched arms. He had even emblazoned the silhouette of that image on business cards.
The trouble was, the man in the photograph was not Qaissi.
Military investigators had identified the man on the box as a different detainee who had described the episode in a sworn statement immediately after the photographs were discovered in January 2004, but then the man seemed to go silent.
Qaissi had energetically filled the void, traveling abroad with slide shows to argue that abuse in Iraq continued, as head of a group he called the Association of Victims of American Occupation Prisons...
Certainly, he was at Abu Ghraib, and appears with a hood over his head in some photographs that Army investigators seized from the computer belonging to Specialist Charles Graner, the soldier later convicted of being the ringleader of the abuse.
However, he now acknowledges he is not the man in the specific photograph he printed and held up in a portrait that accompanied the Times article. But he and his lawyers maintain that he was photographed in a similar position and shocked with wires and that he is the one on his business card. The Army says it believes only one prisoner was treated in that way.
I know one thing," Qaissi said yesterday, breaking down in tears when reached by telephone. "I wore that blanket, I stood on that box, and I was wired up and electrocuted."...
In the interview for the article, Qaissi pointed to his deformed hand and said it matched the hand in the photograph. A close look at the photograph, however, is inconclusive.
Whether he was forced to stand on a box and photographed is not clear, but evidence suggests that he adopted the identity of the iconic man on the box, the very symbol of Abu Ghraib, well after he left the prison.
Records confirm that Qaissi became inmate 151716 sometime after the prison opened in June 2003, but do not give firm dates; Qaissi, a 43-year-old former Baath Party member and neighborhood mayor in Baghdad, said he arrived at Abu Ghraib in October 2003 and was released in March 2004, two months after the Army began an investigation into the abuse.
And he suffered mistreatment and humiliation at the hands of the same people who photographed the man on the box: photographs investigators seized show him forced into a crouch, identifiable by his mangled hand, with the nickname guards gave him - "The Claw" - scrawled in black marker across his orange jumpsuit.
But if he was the hooded man on the box, he did not mention it on several key occasions in the first months after the scandal broke....
A journalist who interviewed Qaissi three times that May and June about what happened at Abu Ghraib similarly said he never mentioned the pose or the photograph. The journalist, Gert Van Langendonck, said Qaissi mentioned the other cruelties he described in the Times profile.
A lawsuit Qaissi joined, filed on July 27, 2004, also made no allegation that he was shocked with wires or forced to stand on a box. That allegation appeared only on an amended version of a complaint he later joined, filed last month, which said he had been forced to stand on the box and fell off from the shocks of the electrocution: "They repeated this at least five times."
Another man had already been publicly identified as the man on the box in May 2004, when documents including logbooks and sworn statements from detainees and soldiers were leaked to The Times.
On May 22, 2004, The Times quoted the testimony of a detainee, Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh: "Then a tall black soldier came and put electrical wires on my fingers and toes and on my penis, and I had a bag over my head. Then he was saying, 'Which switch is on for electricity?'"
Specialist Sabrina Harman, one of the soldiers later convicted of abuse, identified the man by his nickname, Gilligan, in her statement.
She left some room to believe that others were subjected to the same treatment. "The wires part," she said, was her idea, but she said Specialist Graner and Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick II had forced detainees to stand on a box to stay awake, and did so at the request of military intelligence officials. Abu Ghraib photographs show more than one example of a hooded man forced to stand on boxes.
But Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, said that the military believed that Faleh had been the only prisoner subjected to the treatment shown in the photo. "To date, and after a very thorough criminal investigation, we have neither credible information, nor reason to believe, that more than one incident of this nature occurred," he said.
Qaissi's lawyer, Burke, countered, "We do not trust the torturers."...
With his soft voice and occasionally self-deprecating humor, he has impressed interviewers as affable and credible. He told his story with a level of detail that separated it from that of many others.
Most of his assertions and details could be confirmed, Webster and others stress. In his three-hour interview with The Times, Qaissi did not veer from reported details and appeared confident in his discussion, punctuating his story with bitter laughter and occasionally, tears. But he never raised the possibility that another man may have also been photographed in the same pose.
There are in fact at least two distinct photos of hooded men, which I suppose might conceivably be of separate individuals:
In any case, as Kraant points out at NION, the NYT story above quotes Saad Faleh, the man identified by the US military as the hooded prisoner in these photos, as alleging that wires were attached to his fingers, toes, and penis. Yet there are no wires attached to toes in these photos, nor apparently a wire to the man's penis.
That would appear to be pretty strong evidence that the hooded man in these photos was not in fact Saad Faleh. And since the US Army accepts the accuracy of Faleh's testimony, that would mean that more than one prisoner at Abu Ghraib was treated this way.
Crossposted from Unbossed