Iraq detainees: US troops threw us to lions

Two Iraqi men arrested in Iraq in 2003 but never charged with any crimes now say US troops put them in a cage with lions, subjected them to a mock execution, and humiliated them during interrogations at various detention facilities. Sherzad Khalid, 35, and Thahe Sabber, 37, charge they were brutally beaten over several months at Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib and another detention facility at the Baghdad airport. They said the abuse began when they were unable to tell US interrogators where Saddam Hussein was hiding or the whereabouts of weapons of mass destruction.

Both are businessmen who were arrested in a July 2003 Baghdad raid while Khalid, of Kurdistan, was visiting friends. Both said they were supporters of the US invasion.

The two men are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First against Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top military commanders in Iraq. The suit contends that US policies during the war allowed abuse and torture. Both men say that they were tortured and degraded for months before they were released.

“That was a terrifying period for me,” Khalid told the Washington Post through an interpreter, recounting how he was shoved into a lion’s cage at one of the presidential palaces in Baghdad three times before soldiers lined him up for a mock execution. “I was wondering if it could be real that the American army would act this way.”

Khalid and Sabber spoke publicly for the first time during interviews Nov. 14 at a Washington hotel during a visit to the United States to meet with journalists, lawyers and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that US troops treat detainees humanely and that numerous claims of abuse have been investigated. Pentagon spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin said that he had never heard any claims of soldiers using lions to scare detainees, and that the Army would try to assess its validity.

Sabber spent six months in US facilities in Iraq, where he says he endured routine beatings. Sabber declined to discuss what court papers describe as sexual humiliation by female interrogators. He said that US troops intentionally stepped on copies of the Koran, or had military dogs trod on the holy book as a way of agitating the prison population.

“They just wanted to humiliate us in any shape or form they could,” Sabber said. “I wish I knew why. I was sure, however, that their actions were not the same as the values and morals of the American people.”

The two men, with six others who say they were abused in Iraq and Afghanistan, are seeking damages from the US courts, and argue that top officials should be held accountable for their actions. The case is currently in US District Court in Washington, according to Lucas Guttentag, a lawyer with the ACLU.

Guttentag said Rumsfeld and other top leaders “failed to fulfill their duty to prevent the torture they knew or should have known was going on,” and that they “willingly turned a blind eye” when they heard about abuse.

Khalid said US interrogators betrayed their own desperation for information, repeatedly asking if he knew where Hussein was or whether there were weapons of mass destruction. “I laughed,” Khalid said. “I thought he was joking, so I laughed. He just hit me.” (Washington Post, Nov. 15)

See our last post on the torture scandal.

See also our special report on the war crimes suit against Donald Rumsfeld.