Abu Ghraib, Abu Gulag, and Abu Lies

Abu: "The father of" in Arabic.

Gulag: The worst type of prison.

With the migration of torture from Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib evolved into Abu Gulag. With the protection of those responsible for the U.S. torture policy it has become Abu American lies.

In the late 1950s the Iraqi government commissioned an American consulting firm to design and build a modern prison in Baghdad. It was decided that the nearby agricultural area of "Abu Ghraib" was the best place to build the prison. We had our American designed "model" prison in the early 60's.

Like many police forces in the world the Iraqi police forces had "detention" centers inside the police station where suspects are kept. It is at these police stations that interrogations are done. These interrogations were supposed to be supervised by interrogation judges from the ministry of justice. In most cases suspects continued to be the responsibility of the ministry of interior until the end of trials. Once sentenced to prison the criminal was handed over to the ministry of social affairs which is responsible for Abu Ghraib prison and others.

Iraq Security police and the Iraqi intelligence agency "Mukhabarat" and other security forces each has their own "detention" centers and interrogating judges independent from the ones at the local police stations or Abu Ghraib prison.

It is most likely that at these "detention" centers human rights are violated or "torture" is used to extract "confessions" to be "used" in the court to put "criminals" at Abu Ghraib prison. "Convicted" criminals, prisoners, very seldom were re-interrogated in the prison hence very seldom were "tortured" at Abu Ghraib prison. In most cases torture was done before the prisoner was sent to Abu Ghraib to serve a sentence issued by a court.

Under Saddam, the notoriety of Abu Ghraib prison was in fact due to the very large number of prisoners in death row rather than "torture." Since 1980 laws were introduced or amended to make more crimes punishable by capital punishment. Some laws were strange. Breaking into a house for stealing carries the death penalty if it is done at night while the same crime committed during the day carries a lesser penalty. Drug cases were also another example. Courts in Iraq were obliged to follow these laws.

The increased number of executions at Abu Ghraib was mostly attributed to the increased number of crimes punishable by death and due to the socio-economic crises that Iraq went through during Iraq-Iran war, 1991 Gulf War and the 13 years of economic sanctions.

In November 2002 Saddam surprised everyone by freeing all prisoners in prisons as well as those in detention centers and police stations. Criminals arrested that day were actually released, some without literally setting a foot in the police stations. That day I saw TV reports of journalists going through the empty Abu Ghraib prison. I also saw relatives of detainees waiting for family members at one of the known interrogation centers of the fearful Mukhabarat.

After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003 people looted what ever was left in Abu Ghraib prison, doors, window frames — anything they could put their hands on. It is fair to say that after one week of looting Abu Ghraib was not fit to be used for anything. Similarly police stations and their small detention cells and other interrogation centers were looted and burned. The Iraqi police force was dissolved and the American armed forces were the "only game in town." The American forces started arresting common criminals, people suspected of resistance activities, sometimes people suspected of nothing and they needed "detention centers" and "interrogation centers" outside their military camps. This forced them into using the Abu Ghraib prison after fixing it.

Under the American control Abu Ghraib was transformed from a prison to a "detention and interrogation" center. American forces lacking the language skill, the cultural understanding and sheer volume of detainees were frustrated by the lack of progress in getting the intelligence information they needed. This frustration led to the "migration" of interrogation methods developed in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. This was the beginning of the Abu Gulag prison. It is at that time that the father of the worst prisons was created in Iraq by the American forces.

Saddam's Abu Ghraib was a jail of convicted criminals — at least there was an appearance that they were convicted in Saddam's courts. The American Abu Gulag was a place where people were detained with no judicial orders and detainees were tortured to speedily extract information from them.

Three factors contributed to the atrocities at the American Abu Gulag. Firstly, America shielded its people of any legal responsibility under Iraqi law. This blanket immunity encouraged American forces and American civilian contractors to violate the law without being prosecuted in Iraq or answering for their atrocities. Secondly, U.S. officially "migrated," meaning approved, authorized, these inhuman interrogation techniques. Thirdly, the U.S. intimidated Arab media from even talking about such things. I provided information and photos to Arab media outlets and they would not touch it because of U.S. pressure. In August/September 2003 I approached Al-Arabia satellite station in Baghdad about a torture story. I was told by the station director in Baghdad that they have instructions from the American forces not to cover such subjects. I went to Al-Jazeera office and they agreed to send a reporter with me. I documented the torture story in the presence of an American lawyer, but Al-Jazeera was reluctant to broadcast the story. Eventually Dahr Jamail broke the story along with pictures and information I provided.

Torture and human rights abuses apparently were common even before the official "migration" of the interrogation rules. Now we know that the U.S. Navy seals had pictures of human rights violations in May 2003. I know that Amnesty International was handed different pictures of torture also in May 2003 when they were visiting Baghdad.

President Bush told the Iraqi people and the world that Iraqis will not be tortured again since he has deposed the dictator, Saddam who tortured his people. For one year we the Iraqi people tried hard to believe him. Then when the Abu Gulag pictures were made public we were told over and over that those responsible for what happened to our countrymen would be held accountable. But now, one year later, those who signed the decrees authorizing torture, and those like President Bush himself, who were told by human rights groups about the torture, have not been held accountable. We are now told that what was done was by few people taking the "law" into their own hands and were actually just "seven bad apples." But, we are not fools — we know an Abu Lie when we hear one.

May 28, 2005