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.
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In an example last February, prisoners in the southeast city of Amara went on hunger strike to protest long detentions. Mushriq Naji was one of several Iraqi lawmakers to visit, and told Iraqi media that prisoners were "tortured and coerced into signing confessions that were not true."Skip to next paragraph
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Ali says he, too, was forced to make a false confession.
"From the first moment, when I was handed to the Iraqis, they started working on me," recalls Ali, matter-of-factly.
Ali's ankles were bound to a metal bar to beat the soles of his feet. The Iraqi interrogators first used a piece of wood so fiercely that it broke, says Ali, and then continued with a metal bar.
After threats of harsher treatment to come, Ali was moved to another facility. His family had no idea where he was; when his boss from the electricity ministry showed up to bid for Ali’s release, he was told: "We don't know this name."
Interrogation began again, with kicking and slapping. "I could stand the beating, but then they threw me on the floor, doused me with water and used electricity," recalls Ali.
They used a small generator for sustained shocks. Ali says the interrogators often told him that they were "allowed to kill" 5 percent of the prisoners in their care. He was sometimes beaten all day, and hung for long periods from a bathroom door, arms straight, while standing on tiptoes, he says.
Thus broken, he "confessed" to kidnapping and killing a man called Mohamed – who happened to be a co-worker who was very much alive. He also said he had kidnapped a man called Firas – who in fact was Ali's cousin. He admitted to burning down liquor stores. But he made up everything.
Broken inside and out
When Ali stood before an Iraqi judge in mid-2009, his guards warned the judge that Ali was a “big criminal who visited Iran,” and that the judge should be careful not to show his face because Ali “could get out [of prison] and kill you,” recalls Ali.
The judge asked why he had confessed. “I didn’t do any of these crimes; you can see my body,” Ali replied and then showed evidence of torture.
The judge ordered a medical examination that same day, which was signed by two doctors. It describes “many irregular marks” up to two inches long on the back of the skull, the back, right shoulder, right wrist, both feet, and “on and around the penis.” The medical report noted that it was unclear “the kind of instrument that made them.”
Those wounds were of interest to US soldiers who visited Ali in prison. They, too, asked him why he confessed. Alone with the Americans – and despite warnings from Iraqi guards not to discuss his torture with the American visitors – he took off his shirt. The Americans took photographs of damage to his back and wrists.
They showed Ali a photo of the missing American translator and asked if he knew anything. He said he did not. They told him they believed he was innocent, but could do nothing to free him because “you are in Iraqi custody.” Ali was eventually shifted to another jail and his conditions improved.
"I was broken inside; my psyche was destroyed," recalls Ali. When the family learned where he was, visits were especially difficult. His mother "couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't stop crying because I didn't do anything. I didn't kill anyone."
Freedom and recovery
In March 2010, the Iraqi criminal court finally ruled that Ali should be "immediately" released for "lack of sufficient evidence" – a fact the Methboub family knew all along. But Ali was detained for another nine months, until a three-judge Iraqi panel confirmed his innocence in writing. When Ali was pronounced innocent and ready for release last December, his mother was overwhelmed with relief – and fainted in the courtroom.
"I didn't believe it," says Mrs. Methboub, who handed out sweets and celebrated by having a sheep slaughtered. "I had been praying, 'Let me die, so that Ali will be released.' "
Ali is still coming to terms with his freedom – and the injustice he suffered. For months, he jumped at the sound of an opening door. And in a bizarre turn of events, as surprising as his arrest, Ali is now completing a 20-day training course in Baghdad – at the police academy.
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