Iraq: A Population Silenced
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Iraqi dissidents are tortured, killed, or disappear in order to deter other Iraqi citizens from speaking out against the government or demanding change. A system of collective punishment tortures entire families or ethnic groups for the acts of one dissident. Women are raped and often videotaped during rape to blackmail their families. Citizens are publicly beheaded, and their families are required to display the heads of the deceased as a warning to others who might question the politics of this regime. Saddam Hussein was also the first leader to use chemical weapons against his own population, silencing more than 60 villages and 30,000 citizens with poisonous gas.
Saddam Hussein has tried to silence ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq as well. During the Anfal Campaign of 1987-88, Saddam Hussein’s regime killed and tortured the Kurdish population. It eliminated many Kurdish villages, and forced surviving Kurds into zones where he could control them. His regime has suppressed the Shi’a religious community through killings and arrests and bans their Friday prayers and books in certain regions. He has also targeted the citizens of other nations in his region, killing and torturing Kuwaiti and Iranian citizens, among others.
The Iraqi people are not allowed to vote to remove the government. Freedom of expression, association and movement do not exist in Iraq. The media is tightly controlled – Saddam Hussein’s son owns the daily Iraqi newspaper. Iraqi citizens cannot assemble except in support of the government. Iraqi citizens cannot freely leave Iraq.
The international community, including the U.N. and internationally-based nongovernmental organizations, has documented and repeatedly condemned this regime’s horrific record of abuse. Saddam Hussein simply ignores the will of the rest of the world.
Saddam Hussein has given the Iraqi people a terrible choice – to remain silent - or face the consequences. But despite his regime’s attempts to silence the Iraqi people, their voices are still being heard.
Al-Shaikh Yahya Muhsin Ja’far al-Zeini
Seeing no other option, al-Shaikh Yahya submitted, was arrested and blindfolded and taken to the Saddam Security Directorate building "for questioning." After being forced to watch one of his friends being tortured, the security officials took him to another room where he awaited his own torture. His recount of what happened next is chilling:
"[T]hey stripped me of my clothes and a security officer said "the person you saw has confessed against you". He said to me "You followers of [Ayatollah] al-Sadr have carried out acts harmful to the security of the country and have been distributing anti-government statements coming from abroad. He asked if I have any contact with an Iraqi religious scholar based in Iran who has been signing these statements. I said "I do not have any contacts with him" . . . I was then left suspended [naked and handcuffed, with a board between my elbows and knees on two high chairs]...My face was looking upward. They attached an electric wire on my penis and the other end of the wire is attached to an electric motor. One security man was hitting my feet with a cable. Electric shocks were applied every few minutes and were increased. I must have been suspended for more than an hour. I lost consciousness. . . . They repeated this method [of torture] a few times."
Al-Shaikh Yahya was regularly subjected to electric shocks and beating on his feet. For two months of his detention, he slept on the floor with his hands tied behind his back and his face on the floor. According to his testimony, this was more unbearable than the electric shocks. He was also suspended from a window non-stop for three days once, and at one point during this suspension, had a heavy weight attached to his genitals.
Five months later, al-Shaikh Yahya and 21 other detainees were transferred to a separate detention center also in Baghdad. He was detained without charge or trial for another four months, until April 14, 2000, when he was released.
[Account taken from Amnesty International, IRAQ Systematic torture of political prisoners, August 15, 2001]
Al-Shaikh Yahya’s experience was not an isolated event, but just one example of how Saddam Hussein and his regime have systematically abused Iraqis in order to silence their beliefs.
"Traitors" Are Silenced "[T]he political-legal order in Iraq is not compatible with respect for human rights and, rather, entails systematic and systemic violations throughout the country, affecting virtually the whole population." - Max van der Stoel, UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights in Iraq, 1999 The practice began immediately upon Saddam Hussein’s becoming President in July 1979 when he ordered his security forces to publicly and forcibly remove, imprison and eventually kill several long-standing, distinguished members of the Iraqi National Assembly. He claimed that there were "traitors" in the National Assembly. Saddam Hussein calmly smoked a cigar in the Parliament as he videotaped 66 members of the Ba’th senior leadership being taken away. He later called upon other senior members of the Ba’th party leadership to participate in public "democratic executions" of their fallen comrades. Since then, the same tactics have been used to silence Iraqis of all walks of life. However you earn the title of "traitor," you will be silenced – one way or another. "Iraq under Saddam’s regime has become a land of hopelessness, sadness, and fear. A country where people are ethnically cleansed; prisoners are tortured in more than 300 prisons in Iraq. Rape is systematic . . . congenital malformation, birth defects, infertility, cancer, and various disorders are the results of Saddam’s gassing of his own people. . . the killing and torturing of husbands in front of their wives and children . . . Iraq under Saddam has become a hell and a museum of crimes." Iraq is a nation with a rich cultural heritage. Its people have a history of intellectual and scientific achievement. Showing no respect for life, human dignity and fundamental freedoms, Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime has turned back the clock on centuries of progress. His regime silences Iraqis who demand freedom and a normal life for themselves and their families. Silence by Murder
"[T]he political-legal order in Iraq is not compatible with respect for human rights and, rather, entails systematic and systemic violations throughout the country, affecting virtually the whole population." - Max van der Stoel, UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights in Iraq, 1999
The practice began immediately upon Saddam Hussein’s becoming President in July 1979 when he ordered his security forces to publicly and forcibly remove, imprison and eventually kill several long-standing, distinguished members of the Iraqi National Assembly. He claimed that there were "traitors" in the National Assembly. Saddam Hussein calmly smoked a cigar in the Parliament as he videotaped 66 members of the Ba’th senior leadership being taken away. He later called upon other senior members of the Ba’th party leadership to participate in public "democratic executions" of their fallen comrades. Since then, the same tactics have been used to silence Iraqis of all walks of life. However you earn the title of "traitor," you will be silenced – one way or another.
"Iraq under Saddam’s regime has become a land of hopelessness, sadness, and fear. A country where people are ethnically cleansed; prisoners are tortured in more than 300 prisons in Iraq. Rape is systematic . . . congenital malformation, birth defects, infertility, cancer, and various disorders are the results of Saddam’s gassing of his own people. . . the killing and torturing of husbands in front of their wives and children . . . Iraq under Saddam has become a hell and a museum of crimes."
Iraq is a nation with a rich cultural heritage. Its people have a history of intellectual and scientific achievement. Showing no respect for life, human dignity and fundamental freedoms, Saddam Hussein’s totalitarian regime has turned back the clock on centuries of progress. His regime silences Iraqis who demand freedom and a normal life for themselves and their families.
Silence by Murder
Summary executions in Iraq take many cruel forms. A quick yet effective method is to line up the entire male population of a village and shoot them systematically, one at a time, in order to eliminate the village. Saddam Hussein’s regime, however, often prefers methods that take more time, and inflict more pain on the victim and the victim’s family. His regime has poisoned political prisoners by giving them a slow-acting poison, thallium, which slowly infiltrates the system and takes several days to bring death. Iraqi citizens are often decapitated in front of family members, and at other times, they are shot in front of family members and the family is charged for the cost of the bullet. Saddam Hussein has perfected many of these methods of murder on Kurds in Northern Iraq and religious leaders from the Shi’a community, claiming that they are disloyal to the Government. Once murdered, many Iraqis are buried in unmarked graves so that their family members cannot visit them.
As a particularly brutal example of silencing political opposition, it is estimated that at least 30,000 to 60,000 members of the Shi’a community were killed during their post-Gulf war political insurrection in southern Iraq.
Silence Through Torture
Gwynne Roberts, a reporter for the London-based Independent, describes her experience in a torture center in Northern Iraq:
In one cell pieces of human flesh – ear lobes – were nailed to the wall, and blood spattered the ceiling. A large metal fan hung from the ceiling and my guide told me prisoners were attached to the fan and beaten with clubs as they twirled. There were hooks in the ceiling used to suspend victims. A torture victim told me that prisoners were also crucified, nails driven through their hands into the wall. A favorite technique was to hang men from the hooks and attach a heavy weight to their testicles.
Foreign citizens are not spared the brutality either. Large numbers of Kuwaiti citizens were murdered, tortured and raped during the Gulf War. More than two dozen torture centers in Kuwait City have been discovered, and photographic evidence confirms reports of electric shocks, acid baths, summary execution and the use of electric drills to penetrate a victim’s body. Many innocent civilian citizens were also used as human shields.
Branding and amputations have been routine in Iraqi hospitals. In 1994, the Iraqi government issued at least nine decrees that established cruel penalties such as branding. Amputation has been used against citizens convicted of military desertion. One citizen whose hand was cut off was paraded on national television as a method of instilling fear in the people.
In 1994 and 1995 alone, large numbers of soldiers had portions of their ears cut off for deserting the army. The government branded an "X" on the foreheads of these soldiers so that Iraqi citizens did not think that these soldiers were wounded war heroes. Doctors who refused to perform the operations were threatened with reprisals, and many have been arrested and detained. The Iraqi authorities also issued a decree in 1994 making it illegal for doctors to perform plastic or corrective surgery for victims of branding and amputation. In 2000, a new Iraqi decree was issued authorizing the government to amputate the tongues of citizens who criticize Saddam Hussein or his government.
Torture Methods in Iraq
The Missing Are Silent
"If you are arrested, your life is over."
The UN Special Rapporteur on Iraq to the Commission on Human Rights has specifically documented 16,496 cases of disappearances, but states that the number of Kurds alone missing from the 1988 Anfal Campaign could reach tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International place the number of disappeared between 70,000 and 150,000. According to the UN Special Rapporteur, the second largest targeted group for disappearances were the Shi’a Muslims.
Chemical Weapons Silence Iraqi Citizens
It was 6:20 PM on March 16, 1988, when a smell of apples descended on the town of Halabja. This Iraqi Kurdish town of 80,000 was instantly engulfed in a thick cloud of gas, as chemicals soaked into the clothes, mouths, lungs, eyes and skin of innocent civilians. For three days, Iraqi Air Force planes dropped mustard gas, nerve agents known as sarin and tabun, and VX, a newly manufactured and highly lethal gas. These chemicals murdered at least 5,000 civilians within hours of the initial attack, and killed and maimed thousands more over the next several years. Halabja has experienced staggering rates of aggressive cancer, genetic mutation, neurological damage, and psychiatric disorders since 1988. If you walk through the streets today, you will still see many diseased and disfigured citizens.
Reports show that many families have been required to display a victim’s head on their outside fence for several days. These savage practices have been used against women of all professions. For example, an obstetrician was arrested for criticizing the corruption within the health services, but was subsequently beheaded for prostitution. Another woman with a husband and three children was beheaded without charge or trial. According to Amnesty International, her husband was wanted by the security authorities because of his alleged involvement in Islamist armed activities against the state. He managed to flee the country, but men belonging to Feda’iyye Saddam (the paramilitary unit) went to his house and found his wife, children, and mother-in-law. His wife was taken to the street and two men held her by the arms while a third pulled her head from behind and beheaded her in front of residents. The security men took the body and the head in a plastic bag and took away the children and the mother-in-law. Their fate remains unknown.
Women are often raped in order to blackmail their relatives. Men who leave Iraq and join Iraqi opposition groups regularly receive videotapes showing the rape of a female relative. These tapes are intended to discourage Iraqi nationals abroad from engaging in opposition activities. As shown below, some authorities carry personnel cards identifying their official "activity" as the "violation of women’s honor."
Government Betrays Children's Welfare
In addition, the regime takes minority children hostage to force their families to relocate, thereby increasing the Sunni Arab majority in particular regions. They also force children between the ages of 10 and 15 to attend 3-week training courses in weapons’ use, hand-to-hand fighting, rappelling from helicopters, and infantry tactics. These children endure 14 hours of physical training and psychological pressure each day. Families that do not want their children to attend this rigorous training course are threatened with the loss of their food ration cards.
[M]illions of innocent people in Iraq are suffering. Their daily life has been significantly disrupted with respect to the distribution and quality of food, pharmaceuticals and sanitation supplies, as well as the lack of clean drinking water. All of these elements have severely interfered with the functioning of basic health and education systems and have undermined the right to work.
The Silent Voice of Iraqi Voters The Ba'th Arab Socialist Party
The Ba'th Arab Socialist Party
The Iraqi Constitution also provides for freedom of religion which does not violate "morality and public order." However, freedom of religion is virtually nonexistent in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Iraqi Shi’a community makes up approximately 60 percent of the Iraqi population, yet the Ba’th party, comprised of Sunni Arabs, controls power and has outlawed most common methods of Shi’a prayer. In many areas, Shi’a Muslims are not allowed to participate in their Friday prayers. Shi’a programs are completely banned on the government-controlled radio and television, and Shi’a prayer books and guides cannot be published in Iraq. Thousands of Shi’a writings have been prohibited throughout Iraq.
The International Community Speaks Out Against Saddam Hussein
"I received their testimonies, ranging from individuals who showed me their scars and wounds from torture to the hundreds of Kurdish women who held up their fingers indicating the numbers of family members who had been taken by the Iraqi authorities and subsequently disappeared" .
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 of November 8, 2002, gives Iraq another chance:
The international community stands behind the people of Iraq. Despite Saddam Hussein’s many attempts to silence the Iraqi people, their voices and stories are being heard.