The Washington Times

Coalition forces uncover Iraqi torture chambers, graves

April 23, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A11


Coalition forces have discovered numerous torture chambers used by Saddam Hussein's secret police and political operatives to silence opponents, as well as mass graves where executed dissidents were buried.

"The whole range of what we expected to find, unfortunately we've found," said a State Department official.

"Even beyond what we thought was possible, that regime brutalized its people, and the sheer number of people it brutalized indicates how difficult is it going to be to bring healing to that nation," the official said.

U.S. military civil-affairs teams and the Pentagon reconstruction office led by retired Gen. Jay Garner are beginning to catalog the atrocities and war crimes for use in future tribunals, the official said.

They are trying to preserve documents and records that are being uncovered in government facilities and prisons, some of which have been sacked by liberated Iraqis searching for relatives taken away by the regime. The regime kept detailed records, like most dictatorships.

Throughout Iraq, freed citizens have begun a hunt for vast underground prisons where thousands of Iraqis were believed held by the regime. So far, no such prisons have been discovered.

Human rights organizations estimate that as many as 290,000 Iraqis disappeared or were killed since the late 1970s, when Saddam took power. The population of Iraq is about 24 million.

The State Department has identified atrocities committed by Iraqis in the first weeks of war.

"For the past three weeks, we have received disturbing information indicating the regime has engaged in a consistent and systematic pattern of war crimes and atrocities," Pierre-Richard Prosper, the State Department's war crimes specialist told Congress April 10.

According to the State Department, past cases of Iraqi torture have involved medical experimentation, beatings, crucifixion, genital mutilation with an electric carving knife, committing rape while the victim's spouse is forced to watch, nailing the tongue to a wooden board, and using bees and scorpions to sting naked children in front of their parents.

One of the first discoveries was made by U.S. Marines, who uncovered a torture chamber in a hospital near Nasiriyah on April 8. In a hospital room, the Marines found a car battery next to a metal bed frame that apparently was used as an electric-shock device.

Also near Nasiriyah, Marines found a police station with an electric chair, photos of burned bodies and documents showing torture by Iraqi authorities.

"It looks a bit too much like Nazi Germany to me," said Marine Corps Capt. Pete McAleer, commander of Echo Company of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Similar torture cells were uncovered in Basra and Baghdad. One contained an hand-cranked electric generator that was used to shock victims.

Liberated areas of northern Iraq have produced evidence of mass executions. In Kirkuk, a mass grave was uncovered where Kurdish separatists are believed to have been executed by Saddam's forces.

Near Kirkuk, U.S. military forces discovered about 1,500 unmarked graves last week near a military base and industrial park. Officials believe they are the remains of victims of Saddam's repression of ethnic minorities, including Iraqi Kurds. Tens of thousands of Kurdish men disappeared under Saddam and were killed, according to human rights groups.

It's estimated that between 50,000 to 100,000 ethnic Iraqi Kurds were gassed and killed during an extermination campaign in northern Iraq in 1988. Also, between 30,000 and 60,000 Iraqi Shiites in southern Iraq were killed during Saddam's campaign against the Marsh Arabs in 1991.

Mohamed Abdeldayem, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, said the discoveries were not surprising.

"Nobody is sad to see Saddam leave," he said. "We've been monitoring the country closely for a long, long time and will continue to do so. It's our wish to see things improve dramatically."

Beth Ann Toupin, an Iraq specialist with Amnesty International, said it is still early to know the magnitude of rights abuses under Saddam. "There's probably much more to be found," she said, noting that hidden prisons may be discovered. "And what's new to us is that now people care."