History of the Iraq War, Part XVII: Iraqi Torture Victims

Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi described his personal grief as he:

"was roaming throughout the past years of the war in our scorched land and I was seeing with my own eyes the pains of the victims and hearing the weeping of the grieving women and orphans. Shame was chasing me, like an ugly name for my helplessness."

At a press conference he famously threw his shoes at President Bush, shouting, “This is your farewell kiss, you dog!” He was tackled, beaten with pipes, electrocuted, imprisoned for nine months and then released to his tearful family (Santora, 2009).

The American-led torture of people like Muntadar al-Zaidi in Iraq, Cuba, Afghanistan and throughout the world has been a subject of repeated scrutiny since late 2001. The philosophy was described in the McCain-Levin ‘Torture Report’ by the Senate Armed Services Committee as: “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong” (Warrick, 2008). The resulting practices have become familiar: beatings; mock executions; sexual humiliation; long periods of sleep deprivation and exposure to extremes of heat and cold; sexual abuse; religious humiliation; threats of rape and other crimes made against family members (Mayer, 2009, p. 250). The impetus behind America’s brand of torture at Abu Ghraib, including the death by torture of Manadel Al-Jamali (images of his body covered with bags of ice were printed globally) resulted from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s order to “Gitmoize” Iraqi prisons (Mayer, 2009, p. 41). In Senate testimony on the Abu Ghraib ‘scandal,’ retired Army Major General John Batiste testified that “probably 99 percent of [prisoners] were guilty of absolutely nothing.” Estimates of the Iraqi prison population range from 60,000 to 120,000 (Hedges & al-Arian, 2008, p. 72).

The violence is similar in prisons and torture chambers nominally controlled by the Iraqi army and intelligence services (Figure 10). According to the UN Special Rapporteur Martin Scheinin, inmates are (2010, p. 8):

"Severely ill-treated, including by beating with cables, suspension from the ceiling with either the feet or hands upwards for up to two days, or electro-shocks. Some had black bags put over their heads and were suffocated for several minutes until the bodies became blue several times in a row. Also, some had plastic sticks introduced in the anus. They were also threatened with the rape of members of their families. They were forced to sign and fingerprint pre-prepared confessions."

The Christian Science Monitor reports that some refugees have experienced state-sponsored rape (Badhken, 2008). An elaborate state torture regime makes all the more courageous the resistance of the Iraqi unions and individuals like Muntadar al-Zaidi.


Amnesty International. 2010. “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq.” http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/thousands-iraqi-detainees-risk-torture-after-us-handover-2010-09-13.

Badkhen, Anna. November 24, 2008. “Rape’s Vast Toll in Iraq War Remains Largely Ignored.” Christian Science Monitor.

Hedges, Chris and Laila al-Arian. 2008. Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians. Nation Books.

Mayer, Jane. 2009. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals. Anchor Books.

Santora, Marc. September 15, 2009. “Freed, Shoe-Hurling Iraqi Alleges Torture in Prison.” New York Times.

Scheinin, Martin. February 18, 2010. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.” United Nations General Assembly Human Rights Council. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A-HRC-13-37-Add1_EFS.pdf.

Warrick, Joby. June 18, 2008. “CIA Played Larger Role in Advising Pentagon.” Washington Post.

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