Tuesday, June 01, 2004

More From The Files Of Hearts And Minds

An article appearing in today's New York Times details yet another logistical blunder that has caused the coalition, and the U.S. in particular, to lose precious ground in the struggle for Iraqi hearts and minds. Despite the fact that "hundreds of arrests continue to be carried out every week," there is still no system in place to notify the relatives of those placed under arrest.

"The issue was central to a confidential report written in February by the International Committee of the Red Cross directed to the American-led occupation authorities: that the system for notifying families of prisoners effectively did not exist and that relatives often learned where a prisoner was housed only from other prisoners who had been released."

As one frustrated father put it, "There is no court, no information," he said. "I trust my shoe more than I trust the Americans."

The problem with this, is that the anger is felt by more than the prisoner or detainee, but by the entire extended family, which only serves to magnify many times the anti-American, anti-coalition sentiments among the populace.

Here is one chilling account from Khraisan al-Aballi, 39, a trader, who "said his family's home in Baghdad was raided by American troops on April 30, 2003, during the lawlessness that followed the American invasion. He said his brother, Duraid, 47, had mistaken the American soldiers firing their guns for thieves and might have fired back. Duraid was shot and, the last his brother saw him, was lying in the house bleeding from his right side."

"Khraisan al-Aballi and his 80-year-old father were taken into custody, and for 10 days, he contends, he was tortured: stripped naked and forced to stand and kneel for hours; kicked and beaten with a stick; ordered to confess with a gun to his head.

The charge, he said, was that the family had been harboring one of Iraq's former vice presidents, Izzat Ibrahim — a man Mr. Aballi said he had never met.

At one point, he said, an interrogator said to him: 'You think you are speaking to a fool, but you are a liar and a criminal. We are going to take you and your family to a very deep hole.'

He was finally reunited with his father, who was bleeding from his face and had been forced to listen to his son's torture. They were released then and have tried, fruitlessly, to find Duraid.

A year later, Mr. Aballi still has the marks from the handcuffs on his wrists, as well as a deep scar of anger at Americans who he says moved too quickly from suspicion to torture and have not respected Iraqis enough to provide information as basic as whether his brother is alive or dead.

'You know why?' said Mr. Aballi, who worked through the account of his family's ordeal with tears, many cigarettes and much difficulty. 'It's because they have absolute force. No one sees what they do.'

'They were right,' he said. 'They said, `We are going to put you into a very deep hole.' "

Of course, the horrific conditions of the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq have made the anxiety of family members who cannot locate loved ones in the dysfunctional prison system that much more acute. Their is only one target for their frustration, and that is the occupying forces.

What is even more disturbing though, is that for many, the hope is that they can in fact locate them in one of the prisons, because the alternative is often much worse. Take the case of Sadiq Zoman, 56, who currently "lies in a coma, fed puréed chicken and vegetables through a rubber tube in his stomach."

"Mr. Zoman, a hospital administrator who was a top local official in Saddam Hussein's Baath Party in the northern city of Kirkuk, was arrested in an American military raid on his house on July 21, 2003. His family had no clear word about him until Sept. 4, when his wife and several of his nine daughters found him in a civilian hospital in Tikrit, Mr. Hussein's hometown.

Mr. Zoman had a long beard, his hair hung to his shoulders, the family says, and his eyes wandered blankly around the room. His head had been fractured in three places, his thumb badly broken, the bottoms of his feet burned."

The injuries are consistent with torture and physical assault, but the medical report prepared by American officials cites the following chain of events: "heat stroke brought on a heart attack, which deprived his brain of oxygen and sent him into a coma."

Of course, the negative impact of such practices on our efforts to win the support of the Iraqi citizenry is widespread and far reaching. As one of Mr. Zoman's daughters Rehab, 27, pointed out, "anger over each of thousands of prisoners held by Americans was multiplied many times among their large extended families and close tribal relations. The Zoman family, once prosperous, is now reduced to begging for support from family and friends."

"When they destroyed him, they didn't destroy him alone," Rehab said. "When they paralyzed him, they didn't paralyze only him. They paralyzed us all."

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