June 22, 2005
The Iraq prison scandal TimeMagazine won't coverBy Nidra Poller
The prisoner, a 44 year--old female captured near Baghdad University, was held incommunicado for five months in a dark airless 6 by 12 foot cellar where it was impossible to stand erect. The prisoner spent her days and nights confined to a mattress, blindfolded, her hands and feet bound. She was punished if she squirmed too much, forbidden to speak, half--starved, allowed two trips to the toilet per day, one shower per month. The prisoner testifies that after the first week of solitary confinement, she shared her ordeal with an unidentified male prisoner. Accused by the guards of trying to communicate, the prisoners were taken out of their cell and beaten. They made no further attempt to speak to each other.
Neither Amnesty International nor the ICRC nor any other humanitarian organization was allowed to visit the prison.
The prisoner was repeatedly 'interviewed' by a high ranking officer whose ingenuous bantering and feigned complicity increased her torment. Never informed of the nature of the crime of which she was accused, the prisoner had to endure a mock trial. Never informed of the verdict, she was repeatedly promised imminent liberation, systematically disappointed without explanation. Though she was not tormented with simulated executions, the harsh conditions of imprisonment suggested a fatal outcome. Stripped of her real name, she had to respond to the humiliating designation 'Number 6.'
Under these conditions, her physical and mental health rapidly declined. She received no medical attention, no comforting improvement in conditions. Five months of total deprivation. Exposed to extremes of cold and heat. Totally at the mercy of her guards. Condemned to perish slowly, far from the eyes of the world.
And this is not an isolated case. The existence of these prisons is an open secret in Iraq. Where is the outcry against this barbarous cruelty perpetrated by a supposedly civilized people?
Simple. These freelance prisons are run by various and assorted jihadis operating with the support of Bathist holdouts and generous contributions from Islamist millionaires, rogue states, and certain European governments willing to fork up tens of millions of dollars per hostage.
Florence Aubenas, the latest French hostage, was released after 157 days of confinement under the conditions described above. The reporter for the leftwing daily Liberation was captured on January 5th, just two weeks after the release of her colleagues Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, who spent four months of relative comfort in the clutches of the Islamic Army of Iraq. In both cases the newly released hostages had harsh words for America.
Malbrunot unashamedly explained how he assured his jailers of his opposition to the American war in Iraq, his sympathy for the Iraqi 'resistance' and the Palestinian cause. Aubenas described how she and her Iraqi fixer Hussein Hanun Al Saadi were kidnapped as they left Baghdad University after interviewing refugees from al Falluja, 'the city the Americans destroyed.'
Florence Aubenas drew a full house for her June 14th press conference, broadcast live on public and private TV channels in France. Reporters and viewers were charmed by the stunning resilience displayed in her poised professional delivery, snappy wit, and sparkling blue eyes. Every detail of her appearance----exotic dangling earrings, sheer electric blue embroidered tunic, well groomed hair and subtle makeup--expressed triumph over the gratuitous cruelty that had been imposed on her. Her abiding vitality and strong character seemed to annihilate the sordid details of captivity even as she related them.
One false note marred the smooth perfection of the carefully prepared press conference: asked if the three Romanian journalists had in fact been confined with her for 55 days in that dark cellar, Florence Aubenas replied, 'I was with Hussein.' But Romanian journalist Marie--Jeanne Ion, interviewed by French television before the press conference, had innocently expressed her boundless admiration for Florence Aubenas whose dauntless confidence and constant encouragement helped her survive captivity...obviously with encouraging words. If indeed the French journalist spoke to her Romanian cellmate, how can we believe that she lived inches away from her treasured fixer Hussein Hanun for five months, without a whisper, without even knowing his identity?
The Romanian journalist's testimony is utterly convincing. It is confirmed by precise information from reliable sources: having refused to withdraw his troops from Iraq as dictated by the kidnappers, Romania's President Basesco personally directed a crisis cell, reactivating Ceaucescu--era networks in Iraq that led him to the Muadh Ibn Jabal Brigade and helped negotiate the ransom and liberation of the Romanian hostages. French officials have publicly thanked Romanian authorities for their indispensable cooperation. What dictates the French hostage's denial of complicity with the Romanian hostages? She suggests that she is protecting the lives of other captives who are still in the hands of the Brigade.
Behind the human interest stories plastered in the French media lie hints of troubling duplicity. Evidence of the implication of European jihadi cells in the kidnapping of European journalists in Iraq is starting to surface. A Syrian millionaire living in Bucharest, Omar Hayssam, was arrested and charged with masterminding the capture of the three Romanian journalists and their fixer, in complicity with the fixer's Iraqi--American brother. Further details point to interlocking networks that connect the French and Romanian hostage affairs with the kidnapping of the notorious Italian communist journalist Giuliana Sgrena who accuses American soldiers of trying to kill her because she 'knows too much.'
Al Jundi--the fixer captured with Malbrunot and Chesnot and liberated by the Americans in Falluja--is reportedly suing the Marines for torture. Florence's fixer, Hussein Hanun Al Saadi acted as go--between in the early stages of negotiation with the Islamic Army that was holding Malbrunot and Chesnot.
Douglas Woods, recently liberated by an Iraqi--American commando, was allegedly set up by his fixer. And the ransom paid by easily intimidated European governments finances car bombs that kill Americans and Iraqis; car bombs exploited by the media to prove that the Americans are failing in Iraq.
A theatrical campaign in support of Florence and Hussein was hyped by the French media for five months. Giant portraits of the Florence & Hussein couple hung like votive images from public buildings. There was no end of spectacular events: torchlight parades, balloon launches, petitions, intellectual round tables, messages in cyberspace, messages in bottles tossed in the sea. Roller blade rallies, the Palme d'Or at Cannes, sailboat regattas, concerts, and poetry readings were dedicated to them. To whom were these appeals addressed? Would the hearts of their Islamist jailers be softened by such an outflow of tender concern? Obviously not. But there are strong indications that this publicity was part of the deal. Good PR. Hymns to the glory of the all--powerful 'Iraqi Resistance.'
Close study of the recent hostage affair reveals that each element taken separately may seem coherent--the kidnapping, the citizen's mobilization, the intermediaries, the negotiations, the post mortems--but when placed side by side they all fall apart. The French government claims with a straight face that the kidnappers----described by Aubenas as a vague group of mujahidin, and by Hussein as 'moderate Islamist Salafists'--made no political or financial demands. Aubenas describes a series of sessions with the 'Boss,' also known as 'El Hadji,' who kept her vaguely informed of the ups and downs in negotiations, grumbling about the intransigence of her embassy, comically asking for advice or information--'Do you have Chirac's e--mail address?' And everyone's favorite whipping boy, UMP deputy Didier Julia, accused by all sides of hampering the negotiations, apparently facilitated them by mobilizing his Bathist networks and Syrian connections who worked in close collaboration with the French secret services.
Media coverage of the story here in France skirts around the essentials: the heavy hand of Syria, determined to influence, or punish, French foreign policy in Lebanon, is ignored or minimized. The humiliation of the anti--Iraq--war government by the very 'resistance' it explicitly or implicitly defends is brushed under the carpet. And the curious hero worship of Hussein does not provoke commentary. He is proudly described as an Iraqi fighter pilot trained in France in the 80s, thrice decorated for exploits in the Iran--Iraq war, demobilized after the first Gulf War in 1991. Americans are vilified as international gun slinging Texans, the invented 100,000 civilians dead in Iraq are served up at every occasion, but our guy Hussein is an ace! He didn't kill civilians, did he? The liberated fixer was seen on a Sunday newscast touring the Bourget air show with an all--smiles Florence at his side, with a final shot of the handsome pilot in the cockpit of the latest French--made Rafale jet fighter.
Just a few short days after a joyous reunion with his family in Baghdad, Hussein came to Paris with his wife Shua and their son (they also have two daughters) at the invitation of Liberation. He reportedly plans to settle in another Arab country because he does not feel safe in Iraq.
Safe from whom? The legitimately elected Iraqi government? The 'brotherly moderate anti--American Islamist Salafists'? Or both? How far does the long arm of the jihadi hostage takers stretch? All the fanfare of the hostage 'liberation' cannot cover a lingering feeling that they can no longer speak or write freely.
What does all this have to do with Guantanomo? Should the 44 year--old female prisoner described above be compared to Guantanomo prisoner X or Y? Non, monsieur. Prisoner X or Y should be compared to the cruel El Hadji who kept Florence Aubenas in a dark cellar for five months. What did she do to deserve such punishment? Why was she treated with such gratuitous cruelty? Blindfolded for five months! Hands and feet bound! Deprived of the minimum conditions of hygiene and sanitation. Treated worse than a serial killer. Why? To prevent her from writing anti--American articles about Iraq?
It makes no sense.
Unless you enter into the logic of the Saddamite insurgency.
Why no outcry from the ICRC, Amnesty International, and all the rest? Precisely because they have adopted the logic of the insurgency. El Hadji subjecting a woman to cruel and inhuman punishment is not their problem. However...if, instead of paying him tens of millions for his trouble, someone grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and locked him up in Guantanomo, he would magically become an innocent victim, sanitized, sanctified, and endowed with new powers to take us hostage...en masse!