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Iraqi torture victim's tale reveals nation's darker side

Ali, a member of the Methboub family that the Monitor has followed since 2002 in Iraq, continues to struggle with the abuse he suffered after being unjustly imprisoned for 2-1/2 years.

By Staff writer / July 19, 2011

Ali Methboub protects his identity as he poses for a photo. Mr. Methboub was detained for more than two years in an Iraqi prison where he was tortured into making blatantly false confessions.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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Baghdad

Ali was always the least troublesome Methboub son, a dutiful member of the Iraqi family whose saga the Monitor has chronicled since 2002. So his arrest and imprisonment shocked matriarch Karima Selman Methboub and her children, beginning one of the darkest periods for a Baghdad household that has resiliently survived every other aspect of Iraq's long war.

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These days, Ali wears jeans and keeps his hair slicked back with gel, like any other 27-year-old Baghdadi guy. But a closer look reveals the toll of jail: strands of gray hair and scars from the torture he endured while locked away for 2-1/2 years for crimes he didn't commit.

The internal scars are harder to detect. But they are obvious to Mrs. Methboub: "He does not feel he is in real life yet. He is still in prison."

From that July afternoon in 2008 when Ali was picked up at a neighborhood coffee shop by a joint US-Iraqi patrol, the Methboub family was dragged into a world of torture and intimidation, forced confession and legal ambiguity, of bribes demanded and paid that has destroyed the lives of thousands of Iraqis.

When arrested, Ali had just returned from Jordan, where he trained to be a Ministry of Electricity guard. He was carrying a pistol, with authorization. But a masked Iraqi working for the United States pointed him out as a possible militant.

The Americans pummeled Ali with their fists, pulled his T-shirt over his head, and locked handcuffs on him. During interrogation they accused him of being a member of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and of traveling to Iran. Ali says the Americans told him that failure to answer properly meant "we will give you to the hands of Iraqis, and you know how they can make you confess."

That is exactly what happened.

Torture, torment, and false confessions

The first week was the most violent, he says, as his Iraqi interrogators beat and tortured him. "They wanted me to confess that I killed people, forced people from their homes, and that my group kidnapped the American soldier," he says, referring to Ahmed Kousay Altaie, a US Army translator kidnapped in 2006 who remains missing.

Soon, Ali contemplated suicide. "When I heard the lock on the cell door, my spirit left my body – that was how much I feared that," he recalls. "I couldn't feel my body anymore.... I tried to make myself unconscious, but couldn't."

On the fifth day, Ali said he thought it was the "end of my life," and so decided to withstand it. He was brought back to his cell unconscious, and couldn't walk on his beaten feet.

Ali says he could no longer cry, but other prisoners did – they told him later they had never seen such severe treatment. Broken by the torture, Ali said he would have confessed to anything.

Despite the presence of Americans at many levels of the Iraqi justice system for eight years, such abuses continue with impunity. Shortly after Ali was detained, the Monitor provided documents to senior US military officers and United Nations human rights officials to look out for his case.

"Iraqi security forces use torture and other ill-treatment to extract 'confessions' when detainees are held incommunicado," Amnesty International wrote in February. Interrogation methods "include rape and threat of rape, beatings with cables and hose pipes, electric shocks, suspension by limbs, piercing the body with drills, asphyxiation with plastic bags, removal of toenails with pliers, and breaking of limbs."

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