Abu Ghraib Scandal Anniversary
One year a go today, CBS broke the Abu Ghraib story, now an indelible stain upon our military and on our country. Agence France Press reporter Samy Ketz interviews the ex-detainee who has become an icon of the shameful saga--the hooded man standing on a carton whose fingers are attached to electrodes: Ali Shalal.
Ali Shalal, 42, remains haunted by the memory of abuse and torture to which he was subjected from October 2003 to January 2004 in Abu Ghraib prison, the images of which scandalized the world one year ago. I was happy to see the photos published—they convinced the skeptics. Before, most people didn’t believe me, especially Iraqi officials, who accused me of lying, Shalal explains. It was the American network CBS which broadcast the first photos of GI’s mistreating detainees inside the notorious prison west of Baghdad.
Arrested on 13 October 2003 in the capital, Mr. Shalal was brought the next day to Abu Ghraib. He was placed in a tent before being transferred nine days later to a place which he describes as hell on earth.
They accused me of attacking Coalition forces but I told them to look at me, Shalal explains while showing me his left land, mutilated in a hunting accident in January 2003. Well then, they said, you encouraged people to attack us. You know lots of people and you can help us, relates Shalal, saying that he inherited the post of Mukhtar (Chieftain) of his district from his father. At the start of interrogation, they asked him to strip. They put a pistol to my temple and to my penis, shouting "Edaam" (Execute him!). They had an Egyptian translator-interrogator, Adel Nahla Abu Hamad, who put his foot on Shalal’s handcuffed hands behind his back and shouted at him: Give us names, or I’ll make sure your hands go gangrene! So that was the welcoming ceremony, during which he fell down a staircase with shackled feet before being beaten and placed in a cell.
His hands bound, he was forced to listen to a loudspeaker blaring [Boney M’s] Rivers of Bablyon. It was inhuman, it was intolerable. They took photos of me naked and covered in urine. I recited verses of the Koran to myself and I hoped they’d kill me instead of leaving me there, Shalal recalls in tears.
The soldiers gave everyone a nickname from films or TV series they’d watched back home except for one prisoner, whom they called Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State. To this fellow, Corp. Charles Graner, 36, sentenced to 10 years in prison in January 2005 following a court-martial in Texas, was pitiless. In the morning a black soldier named Junior was on duty. He was nicer than Graner but I even saw him beat prisoners one day.
Ali Shalal was in Cell 49. Across the hallway was a prisoner named Jalil, whom the guards called Wolfman. They'd made him howl all day long. Next door was an imam from Mahmoudiyah, Sheik Abu Abdallah. I was so ashamed of being naked but the Sheik told me, "Don’t be ashamed...I’ve been naked for three months. Believe in God and pray.". We had the impression that the guards were less interested in extracting information from us than the were in humiliating us. They had cameras and they told us they were going to blow up the prints and send them to our friends and family.
According to Shalal, not only did the doctors refuse to treat his injured hand, but during an interrogation session, if a prisoner fainted, they’d stand at his feet, throw water on his face and tell the torturers, "Go ahead, boys.". A month later, joy! They gave Shalal a blanket. But three days later they subjected him to electric torture. "You’d better tell us everything, or else.", Abu Hamad growled at me. They sent current down my fingers and it felt like my eyes were going to pop out of their sockets. I fell down. They laughed at me and took some photos. They started again and I fainted. The worst was when a father and son were obliged to strip while hooded. They ordered the son to piss on his father then took off his hood to let him see what he’d done. The solders then took photos and laughed uncontrolably.