BAGHDAD – The national guardsman peering through the long-range scope of his rifle was startled by what he saw unfolding in the walled compound below.
From his post several stories above ground level, he watched as men in plainclothes beat blindfolded and bound prisoners in the enclosed grounds of the Iraqi Interior Ministry.
He immediately radioed for help. Soon after, a team of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers swept into the yard and found dozens of Iraqi detainees who said they had been beaten, starved and deprived of water for three days.
In a nearby building, the soldiers counted dozens more prisoners and what appeared to be torture devices – metal rods, rubber hoses, electrical wires and bottles of chemicals. Many of the Iraqis, including one identified as a 14-year-old boy, had fresh welts and bruises across their back and legs.
The soldiers disarmed the Iraqi jailers, moved the prisoners into the shade, released their handcuffs and administered first aid. Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson of Albany, Ore., the highest ranking American at the scene, radioed for instructions.
But in a move that frustrated and infuriated the guardsmen, Hendrickson’s superior officers told him to return the prisoners to their abusers and immediately withdraw. It was June 29 – Iraq’s first official day as a sovereign country since the U.S.-led invasion.
We rescued the Iraqis from Saddam, only to hand them over to a new bunch of thugs? This must be some new meaning of ‘safe’…ah hell, you know.
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq confirmed the incident occurred and disclosed for the first time that the United States raised questions about the June 29 “brutality” with Iraq’s interior minister.
The embassy declined to say what response was received in the meeting between the minister and James Jeffrey, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat in Iraq, saying it would be “inappropriate” to discuss “details of those diplomatic and confidential conversations.”
The embassy, in a written statement, said U.S. soldiers are “compelled by the law of land warfare and core values to stop willful and unnecessary use of physical violence on prisoners.” The U.S. soldiers involved in the incident, it said, “acted professionally and calmly to ease tensions and defend prisoners who needed help.”
And apparently had to hand them back over to their torturers anyway.
In late June, on the eve of the transition of power, Iraq’s prime minister in waiting, Ayad Allawi, announced a crackdown on crime. Police and security forces rounded up about 150 people in a seedy east Baghdad neighborhood. Many Iraqis cheered the action, which netted a collection of immigrants and poor Iraqis.
The Iraqi police took those arrested to a compound on the grounds of the Interior Ministry.
Which is where the troops from Oregon found them.
It’s a long article. It’s hard reading. There’s a photo gallery with it; you can find the link there. I haven’t had the guts to open it, so I’m not going to link to it here.