Sleeping in a grave-size space, defined by two walls touching both my head my and feet, and surrounded with human bodies touching me from both sides, in a way that hardly leaves any chance to move at all during the long… long night, in a 12 square meters room stuffed with 35 people trying to sleep, and to hold themselves together in order not to fight…
The whole thing started when I went to the university to pay my tuition fees, the thing is that the engineering campus is separated from the rest of the university with few kilometers, but for such administrative issues, students should go to the headquarter, and this is what I did. I entered the main campus and went to the financial department to pay money. I started the paperwork process, and then reached to a point where we needed the director’s signature to finish the paperwork, but she was in a meeting. So, the employee asked me to go and waste an hour inside the campus till the meeting is over, and I did.
What would you do in such a case? Go to the café? I tried, but was totally bored after less than 15 minutes, and then I don’t remember how an idea flashed in my head like a big light bulb: internet!
Of course, what is better than the internet to kill time?
I remembered there was an internet café inside the campus. I rarely came to this campus during the last five years. I think I came like three or four times only. Anyways, so I went to the internet café and did my regular tour: raed in the middle, riverbend, etc etc..and then I was bored again. I left the internet café heading towards the financial department again.
In my way, I was stopped by an old man, with a hateful face. “tfa`6al” he said (it means something like: “how can I help you?”) I was a bit surprised, I said “inta tfa`6al!” (meaning: “how can I help you?”) he said: where are you going? So I knew that he must be some kind of a security guy. I should have guessed from his tone, he sounds like a typical saddam-style security-man.
“to the financial department, to pay my tuition money” I said.
“where were you right now?”
“ in the internet café !”
“where is your ID?”
“at the campus entrance reception, with my mobile phone” (this is common now, in all governmental buildings you have to leave your mobile phone in the reception, you cant take it with you).
Please people; don’t be surprised because of all these questions. It used to be very common in “Saddam’s Iraq” and it’s very common in today’s Iraq.
Anyway, the old hateful man decided to escort me to make sure I was telling him the truth. Once we entered the financial office, the employees there talked to me spontaneously, so he knew I was there before and he left. I paid the money, took the receipt, and left. When I went back the campus entrance reception to take my mobile and leave, I found out that the mobiles’ closet was “mistakenly locked” as I was told. They were waiting for the guy that has the key. “He’ll be here in any moment” I was told.
I sat there waiting for my mobile phone to be freed. Then suddenly, after few minutes, someone came and asked “where is the detained guy?”
The other security guard pointed at me!!!
I was like: ehhhhh..sorry there is misunderstanding here, I am not detained, its only that the mobile phones closet is mistakenly locked!
“come with us, we have some questions please” they said, and I went with them, searching for answers inside my head…
They searched me very carefully; they took my shoes off and searched them, and even took my watch. They read every paper I had in my pockets, and asked me questions about my origin, nationality, and many other questions. Then they asked me to unlock my mobile phone so that they can check it out. At that particular point I had had enough, I said I wouldn’t unlock it except if it was in front of “the person” who is hiding somewhere in the campus, the one asking all these questions through messengers.
They didn’t like my response.
Another guy came after a while, and asked me: who did you contact on the internet?
“my mother and brothers” I said.
He didn’t look satisfied.
“keep him” he said.
Next thing I know, a very fat policeman entered the small room, asked me to face the wall, searched me again, took my money and glasses, put a bag on my head and handcuffs in my hand (I still have the marks on my hand till now). While my hands were behind my back and my head in a bag, he made me run for about a minute, till we reached a police van, where I was forced to get in. The car starting moving towards an unknown destination…
You don’t want to know the swearing and curses I heard all the way, but maybe you’ll want to know that no one beat me.
We reached a luxurious building, I could tell from the marble on the floor. The floor was the only thing I could see at that point through a very small space between the bag and my nose. Then I was led to a room after taking an elevator.
I was afraid to be taken to the torture rooms directly; I was praying to find someone to talk to, to explain to him that this all is nothing but a little silly mistake!
God answered my prayers.
Instead of being lead to some underground dungeon, I was taken to an air conditioned room with a lot of people. I could tell from their voices they were interrogating someone, I couldn’t see anything still, but they released my hands.
I understood that this person they were interrogating, (Sa’ib as I knew later, he was in the same cell with me), did a very awful thing. Sa’ib came to the ministry of interior, and went to the office of a high ranked officer, and tried to remind the officer of Sa`ib’s own father who served with this the officer long time ago, hoping to ask this officer for a favor. The Favor was to order the transferring of a friend of Sa`ib, a cop, to another governorate.
The officer didn’t remember sa’ib’s father, and refused to help him. Then he ordered his guards to take Sa’ib for interrogation!!!
Untill I left the jail, Sa’ib was still there!
They beat him a lot, “how dare you enter the office of an officer just like that?” they were telling him.
Back to the air-conditioned interrogation room, I was still facing the wall, my eyes were covered, and my brain working so fast, trying to see behind the darkness infront of my eyes.
Then it was my turn:))
“Finally!” I told myself!
They started by asking me: “What’s the connection between you and the London Bombs?” !!!
And I was like: “haaaaa???!!.”. I said: “London Bombs???! Nothing!”
A heavy hand landed on my neck, my brain was too busy to feel the pain, I felt my neck numbing for a while.
“SPEAAAK” he shouted.
“Turn around” he yelled.
I turned, facing the room now, but not seeing anything other than my nose and the shoes of the person who was interrogating me, standing so close.
“Why do you have a beard?” he asked.
“Because the prophet...” (I was trying to tell him that prophet Mohammad had one, and that I have one because I love to look like him...)
He slapped me on the face. It made a loud noise that the room became dead-silent for some seconds….
“May the prophet curse you” he shouted.
Again, my brain didn’t respond to the pain signals, I didn’t feel it.
For the next few hours, they asked me questions like “who are the other members of our terrorist cell, where does your fund come from? What operations did you have?”
“What do you have against Shia?”
I said: “nothing, my mother is Shia!”
He said” what do you have against Kurds? Why don’t you go blow yourself up and kill Kurds?”
I said: “Because God says in Quran…” (I was trying to tell him a part of Quran where God orders us not to kill any innocent soul) he interrupted me shouting, “We know Quran better than you”.
“My best friend is Kurdish!” I said.
“Of course he is, so that you can get information about Kurds from him, right?” he answered.
Nothing I said seemed to make sense to them. And nothing they said makes sense to anyone in the world.
Then finally I understood why I was there, after few hours. Security guards at the university had printed out all the websites I was reading while I was online there. They were accusing me of “reading terrorism sites” and “having communications with foreign terrorists”.
“Do you know what these pages are?”
I looked at them and figured out they were the comment section of Raed in the Middle!!
I opened the comments section while browsing in the university, read some comments, and didn’t even post anything. But these people don’t seem to know what the internet is, and they don’t speak English, so I was a major suspect of being an assistant of al Zarqawi maybe! Or that I have a terrorist group of my own, with foreign connections!
I was accused of terrorism, and sent to jail after they decided that I’m not helping myself because I am not helping them!!!
“Help you with what??!!”I asked “I am so willing to help you with anything you want, just tell me what exactly you want to know?”
“Tell us the name of the other members of your group, and where you get your fund from” then answered.
I entered the jail, and found people staring at me with curiosity, but with total silence.
“assalamo alaykom!” I said with a smile, and sat down on the ground, just like the others.
“alaykom assalam!” everyone said.
Then one of them couldn’t resist it anymore, so he asked: “why were you brought here?”
I told them my story, and they all looked very upset.
In the next few minutes, I learned about the stories of the other people that were there.
Then it suddenly hit me: “where are we? Do you know?” I asked curiously.
They all looked a bit afraid, I knew they had an answer but didn’t know whether they should trust me enough already to tell me or not, I have been there for a couple of minutes only.
Then someone whispered in my ears “istikhbarat il dakhliyya”, “but don’t tell anyone that we know”. Istikhbarat il Dakhliyya means the Mukhabarat, and that is the intelligence or the secret service police.
“Ohhh!!” I said “Do your families know you are here?”
They nodded with their heads: no.
There were around 35 people in that room, 4 of the arrested people in this floor were teenagers. I’ll tell you about some of their stories at the end of this post.
I made friends with almost everyone there that day, and then I slept, it was a long day, I was so worried about my family, how would I let them know that I wasn’t killed in a car bomb, or kidnapped? I’m sure they don’t expect that I ran away from the house to go party with my friends or join the circus!
Next day I was taken to interrogation again.
They asked me all the questions you can ask anyone, but they did it very fast. They took the name of my teachers, my friends, even my colleagues and the girls in my class. They asked me if I had ever had sex before, I said no. They didn’t believe me, they made fun of me and asked if I prefer men more, and I said no too.
Then they wanted me to write my “confession” finally, which is the paper that will go to the judge to decide my fate.
He asked: you are accused of attending terrorist sites (Did he say that they are sites that recruit young people for terrorism? I don’t remember) so what do you say?
I said, with my eyes covered: please write my answer “I deny that completely, I was practicing my democratic right of viewing people’s opinion about a certain topic on a site that people visit from all the countries around the world to give their opinions”
He said: what in the hell is that? Did I ask you to write me a composition? Answer my question Goddamn it! You are accused of visiting terrorist websites, what do you reply?
I repeated my answer, but I reformed it in a way that is less complicated for his simple brains to understand, they wrote something and made me sign on the paper.
I don’t know if any of them finished high school, they are uncivilized, they lack morality and education, the way they swear all the time and the words they say tells you what kind of people they are, I asked them about the things that were with me when I was arrested, they said that they have my mobile phone, and my IDs, but the fat policeman broke my glasses and stole some of my money, till now, they didn’t give me back my mobile phone or my IDs.
Since they don’t speak English, they didn’t even ask me one time about the content of the site, which my one and only crime was that I read.
The third day, I found a way to contact my family, “illegally”, to tell them that I am alive and that I am in the seventh floor of the ministry of interior affairs. By that time, my dad checked every hospital, police station and morgue in the city. He checked with the Iraqi army, the Iraqi militias, the US army, and even the ministry of interior which denied that I was there!
It was such a relief to know that my family knows where I was, I told them that I was very well, and that we eat well and sleep well and no one hurts us.
Eight days after I was arrested, I was sent to see the judge, in a court that is a bit far of the prison, when we reached the court they put cuffs on my legs too, and a chain that ties my cuffed hands with my body. I felt the humiliation to be treated like a criminal and sent to a court tied with all these chains. I cried for few seconds only, and held myself together before anyone noticed.
I was taken first to an interrogator who works for the court, where he re-wrote my confession in a way that makes it easier to be understood correctly. He said that the court will assign a public defender for my case. I asked him what did that mean and he replied “Nothing, just some formalities”. He asked me to sign the paper of my “confessions”, and then he called a big chubby man with cheap outfit. The strange man came from outside and signed on my paper: “The Lawyer I-Don’t-Know-What’s-His-Name”. Then after some waiting, I was taken to see the judge, finally.
The judge was a very elegant man in his 40s, sitting behind a fancy disk in his air-conditioned room, with a computer beside him and a cool mobile phone too, with guards outside and a secretary beside him.
He didn’t look at me in the beginning. He asked me while surfing the papers of my case: “What’s your case?”
I said: “I went to the university to pay the fees of…”
He interrupted me impatiently: “the website, tell me about the website”
I said: “It’s a forum, it’s a place where people discuss a topic written by the owner of a website. I visited it and I didn’t even post an opinion, I closed it and left the internet place, and then I was brought here.”
It seemed he was following me. He said: “Is it like chatting?”
I said: “Yes, your honor. This is more like a website than a chat room. You don’t have to sign in and be a part of what’s happening in the case of forums. I was just watching things there. For me, it was more like watch a TV with different channels; you go to a channel not knowing what will be there and without knowing the content. If you didn’t like the channel, you can change it”
He interrupted me: “ok ok I know I know.”
He had 37 translated papers of Raed’s Comments Section, that’s it, that’s my case. He asked me “What are these strange letters between the words here?” I said “Maybe the person who printed out the papers selected the wrong font, these strange characters appear when you pick the wrong encoding for the language”. He didn’t seem to be a computer expert, but at least he knows the basics.
He said “go, I will take the papers to read them at home, and will decide about them tomorrow”.
The chubby entered the room and sat on a chair in front of the judge. He was my “lawyer”, but he didn’t say a single word, not one single word. He only signed a paper that says that he is my lawyer.
I was taken back to the prison. That was my Wednesday.
On Thursday, the judge decided that I was innocent. He figured out that the papers were from a public forum, and he didn’t find any comments posted by me.
I wasn’t released till Saturday morning, after I was forced to sign a paper committing that I wouldn’t tell the families of the arrested people that they are arrested, and that I wouldn’t tell anyone about anything that happened while I was arrested or tell them what I saw inside the jail, and that I would report any case of breaking the law that I know about to the authorities (at this point I laughed and asked: even if someone drove his car through a red traffic light?), and that I wouldn’t visit terrorism websites.
I, of course, told all the families I could that their sons are arrested in the seventh floor of the ministry of interior in the hands of the Mukhabarat, and here I am telling you everything that happened with me, and I am planning to visit all kind of websites as much as I like as long as I want.
I was so lucky that I was taken to the Mokhabarat directly. Usually you have to go through a police station or a center of the national guards to get there, where the standard procedure of torturing is hanging people upside down and beating them with cables for hours, pinching their bodies with electrical drills, burning them with hot water, ripping out their finger nails, breaking bones, using acids on the wounds after whipping them, the dead bodies that are found in the dumpsters in Baghdad even had their eyes taken out of them, and a lot of these things happened with people that I know, or with people that were detained with the people that were with me in this jail, before they were brought here, and the list of torturing techniques is long, and you don’t want to hear them or know about them if you want to sleep at night.
In one of the floors in the same building, there is another prison, a bigger one called “The Palace of Hospitality” (doesn’t this remind you of 1984? The ministry of love and stuff?) Where recently a father and his son were arrested, and the son died at night because his rips were broken after they beat him, and then they spelled hot water on his body, he kept moaning of pain for the whole night, said Abo Ayid, who slept right beside him, and then he died. I’ll tell you more about Abu Ayid in the end.
The one thing in common between all the people that were there is that almost all of them were Sunnis. Interrogators told one of the prisoners during an interrogation session “you Sunnis are all terrorists” and during my interrogation, I heard a lot of racist remarks and questions. The Shia Iraqis who were there were mostly accused of non-terrorism crimes, like stealing, carjacking, etc…
If you were wondering how did we spend our time in jail… I’ll tell you.
We read Quran a lot, we prayed five times a day, we had three meals a day, and we praise God for long periods of time too. We sat all together talking and telling jokes and stories about our lives…
At night, while trying to sleep, I mostly was thinking of what I should write in my next post!
I always had the hope that I would leave that place, time goes really slow there, when I used to feel sad I would think of the nice places that I would go to when I leave, and all the other positive ideas that would keep me happy, I asked people: what is the first thing you want to do when you leave this place?
And we all sat thinking of the nice things we want to do… the things we want to eat, the places we want to visit; it was a hope-generating game.
My family played an important role to help me get out of the Mukhabarat’s jail faster than other people. Like any other corrupt system, you can get a better treatment by knowing the right people and giving the right “gifts”. My family didn’t pay anything to the judge because they believed I was innocent, they tried their best to get me a lawyer, but they couldn’t. I was freed because I was innocent, and I have the capabilities to defend myself in front of a judge.
The question is: what about the rest of Iraqis? The ones who don’t have the money or the power to leave places like that? The innocent people who were taken away from their families and loved ones and accused of false crimes? What happens to them? Who will stand for them? What about human rights? What about civil rights? What about humanity?
Here are just some of the people that were in the jail and their cases, as a sample to the cases. I hope that these people and all the other Iraqi prisoners will go back home safe. And I’ll work with my family to ask the US administration and the Iraqi authorities to improve the situation of the detention for the Iraqis. People should have the right to inform their families about their location, and they should have the right to appear in front of a judge very soon after being detained without being questioned and tortured, and they should have real lawyers in the court, they should at least know their charges!
Firas: a 26 years old light skinned guy, was walking in the street with grocery bags in his hands when a car attacked an American convoy, he ran away, in a normal reaction, so the police followed him and caught him, and beat him continuously for 7 hours with pipes while he was tied up to a chair, and when he didn’t confess of attacking the US troops or Iraqi police, his investigators wrote a report that he must have been trained in foreign terrorists camps to tolerate torturing, and sent him to this place, supposedly a place for more expert interrogators.
Mohammed: a very dull 23 year old dark skinned guy, works in a very poor traditional café in a very poor neighborhood, the owner of the café was high on drugs and reported that Mohammed killed 4 policemen and 4 national guards, Mohammed is hardly smart enough to form a sentence, he can read and write, but besides serving tea and coffee, don’t expect much of him. One minute with him and you will discover that he has a heart of a 6 year old child, he thinks that an imaginary bird comes to him everyday and tells him the news of his mother, the only family member he has. When they were interrogating him they asked him: “did you kill eight men?” He said “sayyidi ya 7aras wa6ani ya kharyan istor 3alena” hahahaJ (meaning: “me? I killed no national guard and no shit at all, don’t put me in trouble” which makes sense in English, but its extremely funny in Arabic and tells you that a person isn’t sane at all), since Mohammed is accused of killing eight men, we called him Mohammed the wolf, haha, and that was his nick name for the rest of the time, till I left, and God knows what will happen to him. All what it takes to put someone in jail is to call anonymously and claim that he is a terrorist, and that’s it, he will be tortured and put in jail for 45 days, so you, “the secret informer” can chose to come to the court during this period and swear that he is a terrorist, if so, that’s it, he will be legally accused of terrorism and might spend the rest of his life in jail, or he maybe executed, or maybe set free, its totally up to the judge to decide that, or maybe its up to the CIA, which I knew later that they occupy the floor that was above us in the building, where the orders come from.
Maysam And Nathom: two brothers, in their twenties, very poor, amazingly good looking, if there was an Arabic version of Hollywood, they would sure be Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt.
When I was in jail I cried twice, one of them was when Nathom came to the toilets from an interrogation session, and I was in the toilets at that time, and he started crying hard, he said that they beat him so much to the point that he had to say that his brother killed 300 people and stole many cars.
He came to the toilets while they started to torture his brother to make him confess of these crimes, I went back to the cell and cried for minutes, it was so unfair, so unfair.
That night we made jokes about it, and that since we all are supposed to be “terrorism experts” we knew that a sword can kill up to 50 people, so he must have used so many swords, or maybe he used chainsaw? How else would anyone kill 300 people with his own hands?
Yes, we made jokes about that, in prison, and when it’s such a silly situation, you learn to joke about it.
So the interrogator said: “so he killed 300 people?”
“yes sir” Nathom answered, and the interrogator writes the confession.
“and he stole an Opel Car?”
“a yellow one?”
And then the interrogator put down the pen and said “you son of a b****, it has been more that two years since the war and I never saw one yellow Opel car”
(And it’s true, for some reason all Opels in Iraq are grey, some are black or blue but it’s rare, but no yellow ones!) All of that interrogation happened while Nathom is hanging upside down, and being hit at the same time.
I left the jail and the two brothers where still there.
Abo kamal, and his nephews: a sheikh of a tribe, had an appointment with a friend to have dinner, and they agreed to meet in front of a well known police station in that area, so they waited there in their car, with the four hazard lights flashing, and the light inside the car turned on, on the side of the road right in front the police station waiting for their friend, and then some cops came out of the station, arrested them and accused them of killing a man, till I left, abo kamal and the others weren’t told the name of the person that was killed, how and when he was killed.
Abo ayid: you know that in our region we call people “abu something” and abu means “the father of” so for example my dad would be abu raed, cause raed is the oldest son, and if your oldest son is called james for example, you would be called abu james ok?
Abu Ayid is a nick name that is used, rarely, to call someone that is married in long time but doesn’t have children, for any reason, cause its rude to call people with their names, calling them abu – is a formal and respecting way, so if you know someone that doesn’t have children you call him abo ayid, ok?
Now abu ayid has been in prison for about three months, he was tortured a lot, his fingernails were taken out, his toes were broken, he was beaten so much, because someone thought that the name abo ayid sounds like a name of a terrorist, maybe a leader of a terrorist group, it SOUNDS like that, so they tortured him, and they are keeping him till he confesses and tells them about the other members in his group and their fund etc…
Kathom: a dark skinned man in his late 40s walking late at night passed by a governmental building while he was drunk. After a while, an explosion happened in that building, so the police picked him up walking not far of that building, and needless to say that they weren’t nice to him.
And so on, so many sad stories, sad because they are stupid, sad because they aren’t fair.
Whenever someone new arrives, I had this bad feeling in my stomach, its sick, and it keeps happening to other people everyday.
One of the guys there, Msaid, was so sad, he has been there for about 50 days, he never says a word, he never speaks to anyone, no one knows what he is accused of cause he wouldn’t talk, and I wouldn’t tell you about this if I didn’t see it with my own eyes, Msaid haven’t eat a bite since over 40 days, we all live in the same place and its easy to keep track of that, people there watch him and be him to eat every now and then, all they hear from him is: I don’t feel like eating.
Guys I haven’t lost my mind in jail, its true, and I saw it myself, Msaid drinks water only.
I really learned that yama fissign mazaleem!
Which is an Egyptian saying says that many of those in prison are really innocent.
I learned also the value of freedom, now just looking from the window or going out in the street is a lot of fun to me, I learned to appreciate freedom.
May God free everyone that is under such great injustice, and send them back home to their families and friends, about us, we will do what we can to make sure that happens, any kind of help that you can offer, any legal help or support from human right groups will be much appreciated and evaluated, we must do all we can to try to get some rights to those arrested, and being arrested in occupied Iraq, everyday.