By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Two Iraqi men who were arrested in Iraq in 2003 but never charged with crimes say that U.S. troops put them in a cage with lions, pretended to execute them in a firing line and humiliated them during interrogations at multiple detention facilities.
Sherzad Khalid, 35, and Thahe Sabber, 37, say they were brutally beaten over several months at U.S. facilities such as Camp Bucca, Abu Ghraib prison and another detention facility at the Baghdad airport. They said the abuse occurred when they were unable to tell U.S. troops where Saddam Hussein was hiding and did not know about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Both are businessmen who were arrested in a July 17, 2003, raid in Baghdad while Khalid, of Kurdistan, was visiting friends. Both said they were supporters of the U.S. invasion.
The two men are plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First against Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and top military commanders in Iraq. The suit contends that U.S. policies during the war allowed abuse and torture. Both men say that they were tortured and degraded for months before they were released.
"That was a terrifying period for me," Khalid said through an interpreter yesterday, slowly recounting being shoved into a lion's cage at one of the presidential palaces in Baghdad three times before soldiers lined him up for a mock execution. "I was wondering if it could be real that the American army would act this way."
Khalid and Sabber spoke publicly for the first time during interviews yesterday at a Washington hotel during a visit to the United States to meet with doctors, lawyers and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. They were scheduled to appear on ABC's "Nightline" last night.
Pentagon officials have said repeatedly that U.S. troops treat detainees humanely and that they have investigated numerous claims of abuse. Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said yesterday that he had never before heard any claims of soldiers using lions to scare detainees and that the Army would try to assess its validity.
Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman said that "this is a legal matter, it will be handled as such, but it should not surprise anyone that detainees would make false allegations against their captors."
Sabber spent six months in U.S. facilities in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib, where he was held in a tent city and endured what he called routine beatings. Sabber declined to discuss what court papers have described as sexual humiliation by female interrogators. He said that U.S. troops intentionally stepped on copies of the Koran or had military dogs step on the Koran as a way of agitating the prison population.
"They just wanted to humiliate us in any shape or form they could," Sabber said. "I wish I knew why. I was sure, however, that their actions were not the same as the values and morals of the American people."
The men, with six others who say they were abused in Iraq and Afghanistan, argue that top officials should be held accountable for their actions and ask the U.S. courts to grant them damages for their suffering. The case is currently in U.S. District Court in Washington, according to Lucas Guttentag, a lawyer with the ACLU.
Guttentag said Rumsfeld and other top leaders "failed to fulfill their duty to prevent the torture they knew or should have known was going on" and that they "willingly turned a blind eye" when they heard about abuse, such as that at Abu Ghraib.
Khalid said soldiers showed their own desperation for information during interrogation sessions, repeatedly asking Khalid if he knew where Hussein was or if he knew about weapons of mass destruction.
"I laughed," Khalid said. "I thought he was joking, so I laughed. He just hit me."