A British journalist, mistaken for an American pilot, was jailed in Baghdad when the war began and kept in a cell without food or a toilet, he said in London yesterday.
Bruce Cheesman wrote in the Evening Standard that he spent three days in jail, then was held in a hotel nearly two weeks until being permitted to go to Jordan. He said he had heard the bombing of Baghdad start about 2:30 a.m. Jan. 17 and left his hotel without his passport -- to find a telephone to file a story -- when an Iraqi soldier grabbed him and accused him of being a U.S. pilot.
Soldiers took his identification, his belt and $2,700 in cash, then forced him to lie on the floor of a storeroom, Cheesman wrote. The journalist said he was blindfolded and driven to another location, where he was struck around the neck while someone interrogated him in perfect English.
"Then a guard told me this was the very room in which Bazoft was interrogated for the first time," Cheesman wrote. Iraq accused Farzad Bazoft, an Iranian-born journalist based in London, of espionage and hanged him last March.
Cheesman said he was blindfolded each time he was moved. At one point he was forced to remove his clothes and was placed, blindfolded and handcuffed, in a cell he said was five paces by four.
In jail, Cheesman said, guards gave him "one plate of oatmeal that was not even fit for an animal," and "I needed a toilet, but my request was met with laughter and punches."
After three days, he said, a soldier checked his identity. He then was taken to Information Ministry officials, "who appeared deeply embarrassed," and later allowed him to leave.
There has been no word, from a four-man CBS crew that has been missing from Saudi Arabia since Jan. 21, when its abandoned vehicle was found near the Kuwaiti border.
Sailor Cultivates Pen Pals
Among the mail-obsessed men and women of Operation Desert Storm, Seaman Mark Stallins, 22, of Parker, Colo., serving in the Persian Gulf aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin, is perhaps the ultimate reader. After a recent false alarm for a missile attack, he pulled out his wallet to gaze at pictures of girls who have become his pen pals. Then he pulled a teddy bear out of a locker and crawled into bed.
"That missile could have been real, and we might not even be here anymore," Stallins said. "It makes you think about things. And we're not just pen pals. We're friends."
He cultivates such friends, many of them acquired through mail, addressed "To Any Sailor," sent by volunteers in the United States.
Heather, 16, of Wisconsin, wrote even though her father did not want her associating with sailors. "She gave me her phone number and told me to call her if anything happened," Stallins said. "Of course something did." The war started.
After allied planes started bombing Iraqi targets, Stallins said he asked his family to call Heather and tell her he was okay. He also hears from a 6-year-old boy in New Jersey.
And he was particularly struck by Shannon, a nursing student in Wisconsin. Stallins caught a glimpse of her photograph when a married buddy got a "To Any Sailor" letter from her.
The buddy rejected Stallins's entreaty to let him take over, so he broke into his buddy's desk and stole her address. She didn't want to get involved, but Stallins was persistent.
Now they've become friends, he said, partly because she writes about real life, not, "I'm real glad you're over there fighting for us. Take care of yourself." And she sent the teddy bear.
Stallins said he's going to visit her when he returns to the United States and may accept some of his other invitations: two dinners in Wisconsin, two dinners in California, one trip to Disneyland and two wrestling matches.