Testimony on War Crimes and the Recent Situation in Iraq
by Dahr Jamail
In May of 2004 I was interviewing a man who had just been released from Abu Ghraib. Like so many I interviewed from various
US military detention facilities who’d been tortured horrifically, he still managed to maintain his sense of humor.
He began laughing when telling of how US soldiers made him beat other prisoners. He laughed because he told me he had been
beaten himself prior to this, and was so tired that all he could do to beat other detained Iraqis was to lift his arm and
let it drop on the other men.
Later in the same interview when telling of another story he laughed again and said, “The Americans brought electricity
to my ass before they brought it to my house.”
But this testimony is not about the indomitable spirit of the Iraqi people. About the dignity and strength of Iraqis, we
need no testimony. This testimony is about ongoing violations of international law being committed by the occupiers of Iraq
on a daily basis in regards to rampant torture, the neglect and impeding of the health care sector and the ongoing failure
to allow Iraqis to reconstruct their infrastructure.
To discuss torture-there are so many stories I could use here, but I’ll use two examples which are indicative of
scores of others I documented while in Iraq.
Ali Shalal Abbas was lives in the Al-Amiriyah district of Baghdad. So many of his neighbors were detained that friends
urged him to go to the nearby US base to try to get answers. Since he worked for civil administration, he went three times
to get answers as to why so many innocent people were being detained during US home raids.
On the fourth time he was detained himself, despite not being charged with any crime. This was September 13th, 2003. Within
two days he was transferred from a military base to Abu Ghraib, where he was held for over three months.
“The minute I got there, the suffering began,” said Abbas, “I asked him for water, and he said after
the investigation I would get some. He accused me of so many things and asked me so many questions. Among them he said I hated
He was forced to strip naked shortly after arriving, and remained that way for most of his stay in the prison. “My
hands were enlarged because there was no blood because they cuffed them so tight. My head was covered with the sack, and they
fastened my right hand to a pole with handcuffs. They made me stand on my toes to clip me to it.”
Abbas said soldiers doused him in cold water while holding him under a fan, and oftentimes, “They put on a loudspeaker,
put the speakers on my ears and said, “Shut Up, Fuck Fuck Fuck!”
Treatment included holding a loaded gun to his head to make him not cry out in pain as his hand-ties were tightened.
He was not provided water and food for extended periods of time. Sleep deprivation via the aforementioned method was the
Abbas said that at one point, “Two men came, one a foreigner and one a translator. He asked me who I was. I said
I’m a human being. They told me, ‘We are going to cut your head off and send you to hell, we will take you to
A female soldier told him, “Our aim is to put you in hell so you would tell the truth. These are the orders we have
from our superiors, to turn your lives into hell.”
Another time one of the guards said it was time for “celebrations.”
“They made some of the detainees strip naked and threw cold water on them,” said Abbas, “And made them
run and smash their faces against the walls while the guard was whistling.”
Other treatment included, as Abbas added, “They put us on top of each other while we were naked. They made us lay
on top of each other naked as if it was sex, and beat us with a broom.”
A female guard told the male detainees that the penis of a dog was longer than theirs, and for Abbas and several other
detainees she made them strip naked, tied their hands tightly behind their backs, threw them on the ground, and made them
say, ‘I am a donkey’ over and over while they were forced to lick the ground.
Other treatment included having their food thrown in the trash in front of them and beating them on their genitals. Abbas
added, “They shit on us, used dogs against us, used electricity and starved us.
He also said, “They cut my hair into strips like an Indian. They cut my mustache, put a plate in my hand, and made
me go beg from the prisoners, as if I was a beggar.”
Desecration of his religion was, of course, included as part of their humiliation.
Abbas was made to fast during the first day of Eid, the breaking of the fast of Ramadan, which is haram (forbidden).
He told me that one day a female soldier stripped naked and other soldiers held his eyes open to make him look at her.
Sometimes at night when he would read his Koran, he had to hold it in the hallway for light. “Soldiers would walk by
and kick the Holy Koran, and sometimes they would try to piss on it or wipe shit on it.”
Abbas did not feel this was the work of a few individual soldiers. “This was organized, it wasn’t just individuals,
and every one of the troops in Abu Ghraib was responsible for it.”
He added, “Saddam Hussein used to have people like those who tortured us. Why do they put Saddam into trial, but
they do not put the Americans to trial. I have full confidence that Saddam used to do these things, because he is a stupid
student. But the Americans are the teachers.”
Towards the end of his interview, Abbas stated, “America does not have a future in the world, the statue of liberty
has been smashed by the boots of the American troops. And this is all because of Abu Ghraib. Saddam Hussein was a cruel enemy
to us. I hoped that I was killed by him though, rather than being alive with the Americans. After this journey of torture
and suffering, what else can I think?”
Other Iraqis, such as Sadiq Zoman, didn’t have it as good as Abbas. 55 year-old Zoman, detained from his home in
Kirkuk in a raid by US soldiers that produced no weapons, was taken to a police office in Kirkuk, the Kirkuk Airport Detention
Center, the Tikrit Airport Detention Center and then the 28th Combat Support Hospital, where he was treated by Dr. Michael
Hodges, a US army medic. Dr. Hodges’ medical report listed the primary diagnoses of Zoman’s condition as hypoxic
brain injury (brain damage caused by lack of oxygen) “with persistent vegetative state,” myocardial infarction
(heart attack), and heat stroke.”
Thus, Zoman was dropped off at the General Hospital in Tikrit by US soldiers after being held for one month. He was in
a coma when he was dropped off with a copy of the medical report written by Lt. Col. Michael Hodges. His last name was listed
as his first name on the report, despite the fact that all of Zomans’ identification papers were taken during the raid
on his home. Thus, it took his family weeks to locate him in the hospital.
The same medical report did not mention the fact that the back of Zomans’ head was bashed in, or that he had electrical
burn marks on the bottoms of his feet and genitals, or why he had lash marks across his back and chest.
Today Zoman lies in bed in a small home rented by his family in Baghdad. Of course there has been no compensation provided
to them for what was done to Sadiq Zoman.
Such evidence that doctors, nurses, and medics have been complicit in torture and other illegal procedures in post-Saddam
Iraq is already ample.
According to a Human Rights Watch report released on April 27th of this year, “Abu Ghraib was only the tip of the
iceberg, it’s now clear that abuse of detainees has happened all over-from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay to a lot of
third-country dungeons where the United States has sent prisoners. And probably quite a few other places we don’t even
The report adds, “Harsh and coercive interrogation techniques such as subjecting detainees to painful stress positions
and extended sleep deprivation have been routinely used in detention centers throughout Iraq. The earlier report of Maj. Gen.
Antonio Taguba found ‘numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses’ constituting ‘systematic
and illegal abuse of detainees’ at Abu Ghraib. Another Pentagon report documented 44 allegations of such war crimes
at Abu Ghraib. An ICRC report concluded that in military intelligence sections of Abu Ghraib, ‘methods of physical and
psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence
personnel to obtain confessions and extract information.’”
Amnesty International has also released similar findings recently.
Another aspect I shall discuss here is the catastrophic situation of the health system in Iraq. I’ve recently released
a report on the condition of Iraq’s hospitals under occupation.
Although the Iraq Ministry of Health is claimed to have gained its sovereignty and has received promises of over $1 Billion
of US funding, hospitals in Iraq continue to face ongoing medicine, equipment, and staffing shortages under the US-led occupation.
During the 1990’s, medical supplies and equipment were constantly in short supply because of the sanctions against
Iraq. And while war and occupation have brought promises of relief, hospitals have had little chance to recover and re-supply:
the occupation, since its inception, has closely resembled a low-grade war, and the allocation of resources by occupation
authorities has reflected this reality. Thus, throughout Baghdad there are ongoing shortages of medicines of even the most
basic items such as analgesics, antibiotics, anesthetics and insulin. Surgical items are running out, as well as basic supplies
like rubber gloves, gauze and medical tape.
In April 2004, an International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) report stated that hospitals in Iraq are overwhelmed
with new patients, short of medicine and supplies and lack both adequate electricity and water, with ongoing bloodshed stretching
the hospitals’ already meager resources to the limit.
Ample testimony from medical practitioners in the interim in fact confirms this crisis. A general practitioner at the prosthetics
workshop at Al-Kena Hospital in Baghdad, Dr. Thamiz Aziz Abul Rahman, said, “Eleven months ago we submitted an emergency
order for prosthetic materials to the Ministry of Health, and still we have nothing,” said Dr. Rahman. After a pause
he added, “This is worse than even during the sanctions.”
Dr. Qasim al-Nuwesri, the chief manager at Chuwader General Hospital, one of the two hospitals in the sprawling slum area
of Sadr City, Baghdad, an area of nearly 2 million people, added that there, too, was a shortage of most supplies and, most
critically, of ambulances. But for his hospital, the lack of potable water was the major problem. “Of course we have
typhoid, cholera, kidney stones…but we now even have the very rare Hepatitis Type-E…and it has become common in
our area,” said al-Nuwesri, while adding that they never faced these problems prior to the invasion of 2003.
Chuwader hospital needs at least 2000 liters of water per day to function with basic sterilization practices. According
to Dr. al-Nuwesri, they received 15% of this amount. “The rest of the water is contaminated and causing problems, as
are the electricity cuts,” added al-Nuwesri, “Without electricity our instruments in the operating room cannot
work and we have no pumps to bring us water.”
At Fallujah General Hospital, Dr. Ahmed, who asked that only his first name be used because he feared US military reprisals
said of the April 2004 siege that “the Americans shot out the lights in the front of our hospital. They prevented doctors
from reaching the emergency unit at the hospital, and we quickly began to run out of supplies and much needed medications.”
He also said that several times Marines kept the physicians in the residence building, intentionally prohibiting them from
entering the hospital in order to treat patients.
In November, shortly after razing Nazzal Emergency Hospital to the ground, US forces entered Fallujah General Hospital,
the city’s only healthcare facility for trauma victims, detaining employees and patients alike. According to medics
on the scene, water and electricity were “cut off,” ambulances confiscated, and surgeons, without exception, kept
out of the besieged city.
Many doctors in Iraq believe that, more widely, the lack of assistance, if not outright hostility, by the US military,
coupled with the lack of rebuilding and reconstruction by foreign contractors has compounded the problems they are facing.
According to Agence France-Presse, the former ambassador of Iraq Paul Bremer admitted that the US led coalition spending
on the Iraqi Health system was inadequate. “It’s not nearly enough to cover the needs in the healthcare field,”
said Bremer when referring to the amount of money the coalition was spending for the healthcare system in occupied Iraq.
When asked if his hospital had received assistance from the US military or reconstruction contractors, Dr. Sarmad Raheem,
the administrator of chief doctors at Al-Kerkh Hospital in Baghdad said, “Never ever. Some soldiers came here five months
ago and asked what we needed. We told them and they never brought us one single needle… We heard that some people from
the CPA came here, but they never did anything for us.”
At Fallujah General Hospital, Dr. Mohammed said there has been virtually no assistance from foreign contractors, and of
the US military he commented, “They send only bombs, not medicine.”
International aid has been in short supply due primarily to the horrendous security situation in Iraq. After the UN headquarters
was bombed in Baghdad in August 2003, killing 20 people, aid agencies and non-governmental organizations either reduced their
staffing or pulled out entirely.
Dr. Amer Al Khuzaie, the Deputy Minister of Health of Iraq, blamed the medicine and equipment shortages on the US-led Coalition’s
failure to provide funds requested by the Ministry of Health.
“We have requested over $500 million for equipment and only have $300 million of this amount promised,” he
said, “Yet we still only have promises.”
According to The New York Times, “of the $18.4 billion Congress approved last fall, only about $600 million has actually
been paid out. Billions more have been designated for giant projects still in the planning stage. Part of the blame rests
with the Pentagon's planning failures and the occupation authority's reluctance to consult qualified Iraqis. Instead, the
administration brought in American defense contractors who had little clue about what was most urgently needed or how to handle
the unfamiliar and highly insecure climate.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) last year warned of a health emergency in Baghdad, as well as throughout Iraq if current
conditions persist. But despite claims from the Ministry of Health of more drugs, better equipment, and generalized improvement,
doctors on the ground still see “no such improvement.”
In conclusion, a quick summary of the overall situation on the ground in Iraq now is in order. Over two years into the
illegal occupation, while Iraq sits upon a sea of oil, ongoing gasoline shortages plague Iraqis who sometimes must wait 2
days to fill their cars.
Electricity remains in short supply. Most of Iraq, including the northern region, receives on average 3 hours of electricity
per day. Even the better areas of Baghdad receive only 6-8 hours per day, forcing those who can afford them to use small generators
to run fans and refrigerators in their homes. Of course, this is only for those who’ve been able to obtain the now rarefied
The security situation is, needless to say, horrendous. With over 100,000 Iraqis killed thus far and the number of US soldiers
killed approaching 2,000, the violence only continues to escalate.
Just since the new Iraqi government was sworn in at the end of April, over 1,000 Iraqis have died in their country, and
this number is increasing as I speak to you right now. This number will continue to escalate as the failed occupation grinds
on, along with the number of dead occupation soldiers. As the heavy handed tactics of the US military persist, the Iraqi resistance
continues to grow in it’s numbers and lethality.
As I mentioned before, potable water remains in short supply. Cholera, typhoid and other water-borne disease are rampant
even in parts of the capital city as lack of reconstruction continues to plague Iraq’s infrastructure. Raw sewage is
common throughout not just Baghdad, but other cities throughout Iraq.
With over 50% unemployment, a growing resistance and an infrastructure in shambles, the future for Iraq remains bleak as
long as the failed occupation persists. While the Bush Administration continues to disregard calls for a timetable for withdrawal,
Iraqis continue to suffer and die with little hope for their future. With each passing day, the catastrophe in Iraq resembles
the US debacle in Vietnam more and more. It has become clear that the only way the Bush Administration will withdraw the US
military from Iraq and provide Iraq with true sovereignty is if they are forced to do so. - Orta alan -->
DAHR JAMAIL (USA)
An American independent journalist who went to Iraq after the invasion to bring attention to how the Iraqi people
and US soldiers were being affected, with his internet journal Journal Jamail. His articles have appeared in The Guardian,
The Nation, The Sunday Herald and is a regular contributor to Inter Press Service.