Security memos from the top-secret files of Iraq's Republican Guard strongly suggest that Iraq was still holding at least a small number of Kuwaiti prisoners of war at the end of the year 2000, five years after officials of Saddam Hussein's regime insisted they had handed all living captives back to the Kuwaiti authorities.
Officials with Kuwait's National Committee for Missing and Prisoners of War Affairs have expressed alarm and outrage at the new documents obtained by the Monitor in Baghdad through a former leading member of the regime.
"These new documents show - beyond a doubt - that the Iraqi government was lying all along about remaining prisoners and that some of them were still alive in 2000," says Abdul Hameed al-Attar, a spokesman for the committee. Mr. Attar's son disappeared on Sept. 13, 1990, five weeks after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
The documents obtained by the Monitor provide frustrated Kuwaiti family members of 605 missing men with the first concrete, albeit fragmentary, evidence that some of their family members survived in Iraq long beyond what many relatives believed was possible.
In one document, a senior officer in Saddam Hussein's own presidential guard writes to Saddam Hussein's son, Qusay, that his guards seized film from the camera of a guard who "photographed" an unknown number of Kuwaiti prisoners as the group walked in the sun to stretch their legs.
The memo signed by Col. Shawki Abed Ahmed and dated Dec. 13, 2000, reads: "We have learned from informed sources within the security staff of the Republican Guard that Monsour Fadhil Zwain has photographed some Kuwaiti POWs in the Third Block during their walk in the sun. But the security bodies in the unit nullified his attempt and the cassette was seized."
Nearly eight months later a Maj. Abdul-Rahman Abdullah adds a memo to the file repeating the description of the guard's efforts to film the prisoners, but adding that "unit security bodies foiled the attempt and routed [him] for investigation." The file's paperwork ends on Aug. 8, 2001.
Though the identities of Major Abdullah and Mr. Zwain are unknown, Colonel Ahmed is well-known as a brutal upstart tribesman from Saddam Hussein's hometown and a former senior henchman in the presidential security team.
Efforts to run down Shawki in Baghdad this week were unsuccessful. Like hundreds of other important regime figures, he has gone into hiding or fled the country, according to his closest neighbors.
On Tuesday night, 300 to 400 Kuwaiti family members of missing people and prisoners of war demonstrated in the halls of government in the capital, demanding that their government better assist them in their hunt for their relatives or open the border and allow family members to conduct their own searches.
"We told the parliament members that since there is no news from Iraq, we have got to take it into our own hands to retrieve our loved ones," says Attar, who, like other families of the missing, only learned of the new documents Wednesday.
"We are very angry that several weeks after the 'liberation' of Iraq no one is helping us," he added. "The government will not let most family members even cross the border into Iraq because the situation is so fraught with danger."
The committee's secretary, Easa al-Shamlan, said that families of the missing remained convinced that some of their family members probably survived Saddam Hussein's brutal prison system. "We believe that Saddam had them split up in several blocks and that is why the wording of these new documents is so important," he added.
Last week, however, a small delegation of Kuwaiti family members and forensics experts visited a psychiatric ward in Baghdad in an effort to hunt for missing relatives. Fingerprints taken from patients turned up no clues.
Attar's own frustrations are similar to those of hundreds of other Kuwaiti families. He believes that his son, Jamal, had secretly joined an underground resistance group prior to his imprisonment during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
"He was getting clandestine guidance from Kuwaiti Army officers and when I discovered this, I warned him to be careful," he says now.
But after his son was abducted by Iraqi officials, his father and two sisters followed to the police station in Kuwait City where he was being interrogated. They were able to see him in an interrogation and torture chamber through a window one last time before he disappeared for good.
"Jamal even shouted to us: 'Father, please, I'm here!' " he says. Iraqi guards became furious and sent Attar and his daughter away. When he returned, there was no sign of Jamal.
In 1996, Iraqi officials admitted, under mounting international pressure, that they had taken 126 Kuwaitis as prisoners, but insisted that they had none of them in custody. Officials listed Jamal's name as one of the seized Kuwaitis and gave his efforts in bomb-making as a reason for the arrest.
"After I read these charges, I lost most of the hope that my son might still be alive," he says. "About 90 percent of the families of the 605 missing believe their relatives are now dead."
Contacted much earlier on the first day of the US ground offensive against Iraq, Attar had told the Monitor that there was renewed hope among the families of the missing Kuwaitis.
"I'm sure that others share my belief that getting rid of Saddam will not only give us a chance to learn about the fate of our sons, but will also bring peace and security to this region," he said in mid-March. "I want to see justice done - especially for those Iraqi Army officers in the police station who would not let me speak to my son before they took him away for good."