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Iraqi Women in the Occupation Prisons As Material and Means of Violations

 

Iman Khamas

Occupation Watch Center (Baghdad)

  

It is important to say at the beginning that there are many psychological, social and cultural obstacles for Iraqi women to talk openly about what they

actually went through inside the occupation prisons. The honor value is the most sacred in Iraq, it is more important than the value of life itself. We have to mention here the reasons why women do not want to testify about different kinds of violations and abuses after they are released from the occupation prisons. They refused to give their names, photos, voices, even after they are concealed.

1- "We do not want to go back to prison", this sentence was repeated by four of the women prisoners we talked to, and a dozen of men. I one incident, a female detainee gave us a testimony of many pages of what she personally went through or what she heard of other women prisoners after we promised not to mention her name. She spent 5 months in prison, together with her brother. But the brother refused to give us the papers, he grabbed them and tore them into pieces; "I do not want her to go back there, neither me. I am the only man left in the family, my brother was killed in the Iranian war, my mother is paralyzed, I have two unmarried sisters, I have a wife and children to support", he was furious, then he showed us a document that he had to sign before he was released. The document says that if he was a Baathist, he would not go back to the party,  that he would inform about any one who contacts him about it, or about any other party with similar principles. The document also demanded that he would inform about any one who works in the resistance, or have any thing to do with it, that he knows of, that he should not go away of his house more than 10 kilometers, otherwise he would not be released. If he does not inform the occupation authorities about any movement he has to do, or if he travels outside Iraq. Of course if the detainee does not comply to any of these points, he would be arrested again.

 

2- Unwillingness to talk openly about sexual harassment, for reasons connected to the conception of the honor value in the Iraqi society and family. A woman, or a man, would prefer to die rather than jeopardizing the family reputation. For a woman to be sexually abused is a shame on the family. A woman I met in Rusafa prison complex in Baghdad refused to talk to me. She was spending her days fasting, reading Quran and praying. She began to cry. Then she said if my family knows about what happened to me, they would slaughter me. She was in her sixties. We realized later that she was repeatedly raped by many Iraqi militias. She gave us a letter to her family. She said "I do not mind being killed, but first I want to tell the whole world what the aggressors and the occupiers did to her, and clean my shame in my own way".

3- Many prisoners lost confidence in media, fact finding groups and human rights organizations. They think that they work for the American intelligence. One prisoner said I will not talk unless I am outside Iraq….then I will say every thing.

4- Some prisoners do not find any benefit in publishing their testimonies. They find it political or media trading. They believe that nothing can return their dignity, or to put things right in Iraq again, after it is violated by the military occupation. One of the people we met whose female relative was just released said, she does not want to talk I do not want her to talk too. What are you going to do to Iraq, how are you going to help, she is not important after we lost Iraq, let her disappear or die…Amnesty International representative was with us in that meeting. She accompanied us while we were looking for another female prisoner who was recently released. We were going from on house to another, she was hiding, and we knew later that she was hiding her children in relative's houses for fear of being hurt.   

Testimonies

 

International Occupation Watch Center has already visited Rusapha prison December 19, 2003. There were 13 of what the American authorities call security inmates, a description given to political prisoners arrested for information of being: Baathist, have some relation to the resistance, finding weapons in his house. At many times the informer's motives could be personal, or to get the reward from the American authorities. One prisoner told the investigator that 99% of the informers are liars, they are simply after rewards. The investigator replied we know that, it is among the hundred we find one whom we want. When the prisoner asked but what about the 99 innocents, "This is the game" the officer replied.

Reasons of arrests for the 13 women were:

1- political or religious belief: mainly Baathist or Islamist, as in Falloja for example.

2-confused accusations:

a- funding the resistance

b- Resistance

c- anti occupation meetings

d- family links with officials in the past regime: mothers, daughters, or any relation with ex Baathists and resistance wanted by the occupation authorities.

Arresting women as hostages, and putting pressure on the men using their women are violations of the highest value in the Iraqi society which is the honor value. Women for the occupying troops and their intelligence became a means and of violation, contrary to Bush's discourse to the international community that America occupied Iraq to liberate the Iraqi women as part of its mission. In his electoral program Bush confirmed his attitude of opposing any discrimination against women, that beating a pregnant woman for example is considered a violation to the woman's and the child's rights as well. According to eye witnesses in Abu Graib there were women who gave birth to children in side the occupation prisons. They were arrested while they were pregnant. A woman who was arrested at the out skirts of Kerkook has just given a birth to a baby 18 days ago, and was breast feeding him. The American soldier threw the baby to his grandmother, and arrested the mother while milk was running on her clothes.

3-malicious informers: a woman was arrested for example because her schizophrenic sister informed against her together with her husband and son.

  Under Occupation, a monthly newspaper published by OWC, published in January a report on these 13 women in Rusapha prison. OWC could not enter any other prison, specially Abu Graib, because the occupation authorities did not allow them, or any other human rights, or legal organization to ask about any male or female prisoners who have no right to give power of attorney to any lawyer. No one what ever his nationality is can legally proceed with these cases. This is what OWC was told by the American colonel who was responsible for the American prisons in Iraq, Chuck Rayan, in December 2003.

Some women prisoners were released , but arresting women did not stop. In fact it increased in Abu Graib, the arresting campaign included villagers in Falloja area, house raids continued, women of all ages were arrested. A male prisoner told us that he saw with his own eyes a very old woman, over 80, walking in the prison by a stick in Abu Graib. OWC interviewed and documented a girl of 12 who was arrested with her two sisters (19, 21 ys) and her mother (over 50) in the airport prison in December.

OWC met 5 women and many male prisoners, many refused to talk openly. Some talked on condition of unanimity. They demanded that details like the date and place of arrest or release are not mentioned for fear of being recognized by the occupying authorities.

Witness A said she is willing to testify openly outside Iraq, she was willing to talk to us too. A was arrested for 5 months. One day in Sept. 2003, her house was raided by American armored vehicles, tanks, and hummers which surrounded the neighborhood and closed the street. Tens of heavily armed soldiers as if in a big battle entered the house, they did not reply when I asked what they wanted. They gathered the women in one place and took the men away. They asked me about my name, when I gave it the translator grabbed my hand and said this is a political target. Other soldiers were searching the house. They took my books, my phd thesis, my CDs, and my computer. They told me that they are going to take me with them for few hours to ask some questions, a very quick investigation they said. They arrested one of my relatives, and one of our neighbors who was a diplomat, just because he was from the same province. I realized that they were arresting me for my tribe, not for any thing else.

The raid and arrest happened after I gave an interview to a foreign newspaper, where I talked about the right of any Iraqi to join any NGO even if it was working under Saddam. I suspect that my arrest has something to do with this interview. They took me to (…) in the north of Baghdad, in an area which is still under construction. They made it their office. It was almost sun set. My eyes were tied. I entered a place which I realized later that it was an unfinished house. They put me in a room which they called (the cave). The window was closed with bricks and the door with metal plates, I tried to find about the room with my hands. There were three iron beds without mattress. I sat on one of them. I heard something in the room, I was terrified, I thought it was a snake. Something bit my foot finger, it hurt. I realized that it was a rat. I pulled my feet and sat legs crossed on the bed. It was not easy with all the springs. I began to read lines of Quran. I was worried about my paralyzed mother and my sisters. But I was most worried for my relative.

After a long time I asked where the investigation is, I thought they were honest when they said that it will not take more than an hour. I asked about any official in the facility,   a voice answered (Shut up). I tried again, this time I asked for the bathroom. The soldier took me to an finished bathroom. The house was just a skeleton. I took a deep breath; someone pulled me back to the dark cave. I searched the ground for some thing to put on the bed. It was too hot to sit on the iron bed. I found a piece of thick paper box. I flattened it and put it on the bed. I asked again about the investigation, the answer came through the closed door (Later, later ). I prayed on the bed. I tried to sleep. I saw glimpses of light through the small holes in the wall.  It was dawn. I tried to find out about the noises, I realized that there was a box filled with refuse and food remains and empty juice cans. There were rats searching in it. One of them bit me yesterday.

They gave me a bottle of water and a piece of cookie. That was all I had that day. It was too hot, I was sweating all day, I needed more water. In the afternoon, the door was strongly opened, a woman was entered. She was screaming hysterically of fear and darkness, and of rats. But the most frightening thing for her was what will happen to her after prison. She told me later that her schizophrenic sister gave false information against her, her husband and her son, saying that they hide weapons in the house. All were arrested although no weapons were found. That woman was arrested for several months. Up till now, I do not know if she is released or still in prison for   false information from a crazy woman.

  In the airport prison they took our clothes and gave us different ones. They searched us and and took every thing we had. They called me for investigation. The officer in the Army or the intelligence asked about my name, religion, faction, work, and interests. He was interested in discussing my ideas about women work in civil society. He liked my logic, and said that he was talking to a civilized woman. I was glad , I thought I was going to be released soon. That was not what happened. They showed me the place where I am staying in during my detention in the airport prison.

In a tent we were 20 women., ten of them were arrested for political reasons. (she mentioned the names, some of them we have no idea where they are now). The others had different charges.

Female tent was facing male tents. We could see them. There were bathrooms made of wood. They do not reach the ground, in fact there are at least 50 centimeters between the ground and the wooden wall of the bathroom. Our feet and legs could be seen when we go to the bathroom, which was very embarrassing and opposite to our religion. One morning, female prisoner (S) who was an old very respectable lady was having a bath when a woman soldier, accompanied by many men soldiers, called her. (S) put the clothes on her wet body, tied her hair, and run to the yard where she was called. The woman soldier said we want to search you. It was a strange order because she had nothing on apart from her prison dress. We realized that they wanted to humiliate her. She was put between two soldiers, her arms stretched vertically, her legs opened as wide as she could. The woman soldier began to (search) her. She pinched her, pressed parts of her body, opened her hair, pulled it strongly and searched it severely, and then she hit the women between her legs. She repeated this for four times, each time from one side. By then we were sure that she was humiliating the woman in front the male prisoners. The message was clear. These are your women in our hands, either you confess or….

A talked about another prisoner, Um Tai, the wife an ex official in the presidency. She was arrested as a hostage to force her husband give himself to them. She was over sixty, suffering from liver and kidney, her husband was retired many years before the war. She was put in solitary confinement; her tent had the size of one mattress. She was not allowed to go to bathroom for two days. She was left without water or food for 2 days. She had to use one corner of the room-mattress as a bathroom.

Um Tai talked about how male prisoners were tortured in Abu Graib. She said they bring the naked prisoner, eyes tied, and tie him to the bars, arms and legs stretched out like on a Cross. They begin to torture him. They beat him, especially on the sensitive   parts of his body. They threaten them with military dogs; in one incident the dog actually bit a prisoner from his thigh. The man fainted. In other occasions, they force naked men to lie on ice blocks, some had heart attacks.

A also talked about the four sisters of Taha Yassin Ramadan, the ex leadership member. They were cruelly tortured; we could hear their screams filling the place. They let military dogs attack them. The youngest sister went hysterical; she suggested many places that he could possibly be in. They did not know where the brother is.

 

The meeting with A took about four hours. She insisted not to give any information about her identity. She talked about another prison she was moved to, it is in Baghdad. There 3 rooms for 3 different kinds of women prisoners. There were 56 women. The rooms give on an open corridor.  It was very cold. The cold drifts make it even worse. There were windows near the roofs, but there was no glass on them. Sickness hurt us. Stomach, colon, diarrhea, respiratory, colds, and ear infections . We had to take cold baths, there was no hot water. Even after water heaters were repaired, they were broken again in no time because of overload. Even if there was hot water it was not enough for the entire prisoner to wash their bodies and clothes . The water was cut after a while, we had to put our wash on our beds to dry. The food was bad, two meals a day. The first, at noon was a handful of rice and some soup, beans, lentils, or eggplants. It was so bad and greasy that we had diarrhea.

A had whisper some thing in my ear, although there was no one else in the room. One prisoner was raped 17 times by Iraqi police men to the knowledge of the American. We do not know who she is, why she was imprisoned. She was not well, she kept silent, and she was vomiting all the time. She was taken away; we do not know anything about her.

A now sits at home, does not go out at all. She thinks that her life is ended, that there is no use in anything. She said that this is globalization. It will take away all our values, beliefs, together with our recourses, our land and our two rivers. (We heard stories of sexual harassment by Iraqi police men from other women prisoners, and also from men. One of the male prisoners gave us names of 3 Iraqi women who were beaten in humiliating way. They had to lie on their backs, legs up, and they were beaten on their feet).

A sign on the head

 

 

A gave us B's address. B was a fellow prisoner. She has a degree in law, and she writes poetry. She said she wanted her story to be heard by every body all over the world. An Amnesty International representative, Jihan Al'alaily, accompanied us to visit her. It was very difficult to find her. In every address we were given, we were faced with angry reply, refusing to help us. When we met her at last, she said that she knew A,  that she loved her and actually wrote poems about her. She said that A was a respectable and patient woman. B said that she is willing to say every thing outside Iraq. Here I will not say a word. Then, she put her head down, removed her hair and said (Look). There was a big wound not yet healed. There was no hair in the place. She was angry:" my money was stolen , my family is shattered now, I am afraid for my children and for my self. I sent each one of my children to a different place". We had to promise her that we are not going to reveal her identity. She promised to tell us every thing in the next day. Before we leave she said they forced me to stir a pot filled with human excrements and petrol. I had to keep on stirring on fire until it is dry. I had allergy because of that, I could not eat for a long time. Now whenever I remember I feel sick and want to through back. I was hand cuffed for 27 days. What do you want me to say more.

Next day she did not come to our appointment. She kept running away from us. A man who knows her said : leave her alone, she is afraid and worried about her family.

………

A friend accompanied us to a relative house. He said that a woman ( C )has just been released. AI representative was with us. A relative of C received us at the gate. He apologized that she can not meet us. We tried to convince him that we are not going to reveal any information leading to her identity, that her testimony was very important to save other women in prison. He promised to help and went inside . When he came back he was even more obstinate, he said : All Iraq has gone, what importance this woman has. Please leave us alone.

………….

 

 

   

 D who is Palestinian by origin was arrested by Iraqi police men. She was beaten , tortured, and whipped, for no clear reason. Her brother said she came back with torn clothes, that she was hearing screams of another woman cruelly tortured. She knew that the other woman was working as a secretary in the General Federation of Iraqi women. We have already heard that Iftikhar Alsamara'I , the under secretary of the Federation is arrested( she is released lately) . Which is strange because Iftikhar herself went to the American directly after the war, she introduced her self and told them everything about her identity. They told her what do we need from an NGO woman. Go home . But she was arrested all the same .

We asked to meet D , her brother said no way. The Iraqi police arrested her, and the American released her. We do not want to come close to the bear. We heard later that she left Iraq where she lived since 1948.

…….

 

Prisoner E's sister visited us asking for help. E was arrested with her daughter , her son in law and a guest in their house. The guest was released after 4 days, the daughter was also released after 9 days, but E and the son in law are still in prison.  E was a member in the Baath party, we have information from an ex prisoner that she is being beaten during the investigation, that she was accused of helping the resistance. E's daughter told us that after she was investigated and proved to be (innocent) the officer who was responsible for the prison called her. On the way from her cell to his office, the translator told her "you are going to see the manager of this prison. He is going to ask you about how was it inside the prison; whether you were tortured or not etc…If your answers are negative you are going to be sent back to the cell, you are not going to be released. If you say that every thing was okay you will be released. Of course she said every thing was fine inside prison, she had also to sign a paper saying that she is going to cooperate with the occupation authorities if she hears or knows anything useful she would inform them. Such a paper is signed by all the prisoners we met who were released. E is still in jail.

………..

Male Prisoners' Testimonies

 

A friend of OWC has her son, who worked as a translator for the American troops, arrested. She was waiting at the Abu Graib gate when a group of prisoners was released. She tried to know some thing about her son. One of the prisoner said sorry I do not know him, but he surprised her by saying there is a very awful thing going on inside the prison, few days ago, he added, the American forces lead a naked woman in front of the men's tent, then they throw her in one of them. One of the prisoner threw a blanket to cover her.

The Iraqis have read a letter supposedly written by a woman prisoner in Abu Graib. OWC has emailed a scan of this letter to American women organization. The letter  demanded  that the brave and honest Iraqis should clean their honor by bombing the Abu Graib prison, because shameful things are going on inside, that female prisoners are being sexually abused in many ways. The letter was signed by a woman called Noor.

This letter got suspicious reaction; many said it could be fake, just to excite the Iraqi street. But any way there was much talk about female prisoners' sexual abuse. A recently released male prisoner, F, agreed to tell his information about women prisoners on condition of anonymity. The stories F told us about women abuse are exemplary of double abuse, he said we were sitting in the warm sun outside the tent when a truck passed. There were three women in the truck. A colleague put his head down and went back to the tent. I told him that it is sad to see women prisoners; he told me that the women he just saw were his mother and sister. He did not recognize the third.

F recalls seeing the American soldiers leading a women in her thirties, with torn clothes, almost naked, hands tied she was trying to cover whatever part of her body was showing. One of the prisoners took off his clothes and threw them on her. We felt deeply humiliated, even more than she felt, because the only thing we could do is   to put our heads down.

There was a young man of 35 with me in the tent, F says. He was very polite, handsome and religious. One day the called him for investigation, he disappeared for many days, when he came back he was a different man. He told us that a female American soldier found him handsome as she said and wanted to have a boy from him. She took off her clothes and tried to sleep with him. He refused. She tied his eyes, pulled him naked from a sensitive part of his body and took him somewhere. She made him go around in some place , she walked him for about 50 meters, then she removed the tie from his eyes, he found himself in the middle of women prison where many women prisoners were naked too. He saw a very old woman sitting there with her head down. The female soldier told him that there are cameras in the place. He was left in this situation for 17 days.

Prisoner F demanded that all soldiers who leave Iraq should be searched for videos and photos, which prove that they came to humiliate us.

Another prisoner who was released in February 2004, again refused to give his name or any details about his arrest until he reached Abu Graib, told us that while he was taken from one place to another, the American soldier pushed me to the ground, put his boot on my neck and pulled up my head. He removed the sack from my head and told me to look. I saw two women in a truck, they looked like a mother and a daughter. It was raining heavily. The younger was barefoot. I cried that night, I was a prisoner, tied I could not defend our women.

During the investigation, this man said, the American soldier asked me about my childhood, if I was sexually abused, if I had sex with animals, then he asked me how I found him, and asked to look in his eyes. I told him that I was a Moslem, that I pray and fast , that I am a grandfather, I do not care about anything , only my granddaughter. He made fun of me, and asked if my wife was beautiful, then he spit on the ground and left the room. In another prison, an old bearded man of 65 years told me that he was asked the same questions, then the officer offered to bring his wife and daughter to the prison. The old man spit in the officer's face, He was crying , praying all the time never talked or said anything after that.

A prisoner who spent 67 days in Um Qasr detention camp deep in the south, said that there were 3 tents for children, juvenile, and women prisoners. He said that he was beaten cruelly when he saw a girl of 12 being investigated, he was so mad that he began to shout Is this the freedom that the American promised us. A human rights representative in the American Army, replied Freedom is for the Americans, not for the Iraqis.

From all the stories above, and many others, it is obvious that women are used as a material and means of violations. She is used against man. Using the value of honor in its eastern, Arabic and Islamic context means that these kinds of abuses are built on the psychological and cultural structures of the Iraqi society. They are meant to break the Iraqi's image of himself, women's image in society and to herself
occupationwatcheman@yahoo.com.