The Guardian May 19, 2004


Torture was routine soldiers and Iraqis claim

Susan Webb

Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia charged nearly two months ago that US 
intelligence operatives directed torture of Iraqi prisoners. Now, 
reports by Major General Antonio Taguba and others reveal 
systematic torture and abuse of detainees by US military and 
private personnel, carrying out policy from on high. These 
reports contradict efforts by White House and Pentagon officials 
to pin all blame on a few low-ranking soldiers.

Mejia has offered to testify before Congress about torture of 
Iraqi detainees that he witnessed last year at the Al Assad US 
air base, northwest of Baghdad. But first he has to get the US 
military to let him leave Ft Stewart, where he is confined. 
Mejia, 25, is facing a court martial because he refused to return 
to Iraq from leave last October. He turned himself in to the 
military on March 15 this year and applied for conscientious 
objector status, citing the brutality and suffering he had seen 
in the conduct of the war.

In his CO application, Mejia provided details of abuse that he 
saw at Al Assad. Tod Ensign of Citizen Soldier, which is 
supporting Mejia's application, gave the People's Weekly World 
a summary of the allegations.

Mejia's National Guard platoon was assigned to run a prison camp 
at Al Assad. They were instructed not to call it a POW camp to 
avoid Geneva Convention rules. Instead, it was to be called a 
"detention camp" for interrogation of prisoners.

Most of the detainees had been seized in military sweeps.

The platoon was never trained in handling prisoners. There was no 
medical care for the prisoners. The soldiers were instructed by 
"three mysterious guys" not in uniform, who did not give their 
real names. The first thing they were told, Mejia said, was "your 
job is sleep deprivation  do anything to accomplish this." 
"Anything" included yelling, slamming sledgehammers into the 
wall, or holding a loaded 9-millimetre pistol next to a 
prisoner's ear.

Instead of acting on Mejia's allegations, his commanders charged 
him with desertion. His court martial is scheduled to begin May 
19 at Ft. Stewart.

Iraqi Communist Party call for UN supervision

In response to the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison, 
the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) has called for United Nations 
supervision of human rights in Iraq. The ICP's Centre for Human 
Rights, which long fought torture by Saddam Hussein at the same 
prison, said in a May 2 statement, "This new scandal comes in the 
aftermath of vicious violations that had been highlighted by 
international human rights organisations  which included the 
use of excessive force and a policy of collective punishment and 
siege of cities as demonstrated in Falluja where hundreds of 
innocent civilians were killed."

The ICP statement said the Iraqi people "equally condemned" 
"terrorist acts  including explosions, assassinations and 
barbaric attacks targeting mainly civilians."

ICP spokesperson Salam Ali told the People's Weekly World 
control over all detentions should be handed over to Iraqis 
under UN supervision. He also called for an international 
inquiry, with involvement of Iraqi organisations, into the 
tortures. "The people responsible for violations should be tried 
under Iraqi law", Ali said.

Speaking by phone from Baghdad, Huda Al-Jazairy, an Iraqi mother, 
told the People's Weekly World, "After I saw the photos 
and the videos, I couldn't sleep all night. The Americans speak 
about democracy and freedom. Now, we saw another picture."

Her husband's friend, she said, was just let out of Abu Ghraib. 
He had been held there about four months. He was given very 
little food, no clean water, and was severely beaten. "There was 
no reason", she said. He and his brother had been walking down a 
road. When US vehicles passed, the two became frightened and 
started running. They were caught and jailed by the Americans, 
who claimed that they had guns  something they firmly deny.

Saddam Hussein behaved the same way, Al-Jazairy said. "Now, 
Americans came and did the same." The justification for the war 
and occupation is "all lies," she said. "The first thing to do is 
to get the Americans out."

Military mum Pat Gunn, from Lansdowne, Pa., told the World 
she doesn't know how to react to "this latest horror". She 
worried that "the retaliation is going to be tremendous." Her son 
Jason, 25, was badly injured in Iraq last year but was forced to 
return to combat, and recently his stay was extended.

"I will never speak against a United States soldier, I just 
cannot", she said. "But I can say, look what President Bush has 
done to our world! The horror of what he has done is beyond 
words. So many innocent people caught in the middle of this 
firestorm with no way out. I only can pray that this will end 
soon."

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