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10/11/03 - REMEMBERING SADDAM’S VICTIMS - 2003-10-14

Thirty-two kilometers west of Baghdad, sprawled over more than one-hundred hectares, lies one of Saddam Hussein’s most infamous prisons, Abu Ghraib. It was known as Iraq’s gulag, where thousands of political prisoners were executed. Thousands more were forced to live in overcrowded, disease-infested cells. The threat of beatings, torture, and summary execution was ever-present.

Hakem Kharqani was arrested and taken to Abu Ghraib in 1982. He was the unwitting acquaintance of a student involved in an Islamic opposition group accused of attacking Tariq Aziz, then Iraqi deputy prime minister. In the interrogation room, prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs. They were then hoisted by a rope attached to a hook in the ceiling so they dangled above the ground. The tendons in their shoulders tore under the strain. Prisoners were lashed with wires. Electric shocks were administered through cables attached to their earlobes, nipples, and genitals.

Mr. Kharqani and two other inmates were forced to watch three other prisoners being killed with acid. When the torture ended, the prisoners were herded into basement cells so crowded that prisoners created their own rotation for lying down, sitting, and standing. Eventually, the prisoners of Abu Ghraib faced pro-forma trials.

It is estimated that thirty-thousand people were hanged at Abu Ghraib under the regime of Saddam Hussein. The execution rate in the prison was high in the 1980s, when the government launched oppressive campaigns against both the Shiite and Kurdish communities. The killing rate soared again in 1991, when Saddam Hussein brutally put down uprisings in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.

With Iraq’s liberation, the horrors of Saddam Hussein’s regime have been brought to an end, said President George W. Bush:

“The true monuments of his rule and character -- the torture chambers, and the rape rooms, and the prison cells for innocent children -- are closed. As we discover the killing fields and mass graves of Iraq, the true scale of Saddam’s cruelty is being revealed.”

Former Iraqi prisoners want the lessons of the past to be remembered as a guarantee of Iraq’s future freedom. As Harkem Kharqani said, “The prisoners are Iraq’s best teachers.”