Sarah Leah Whitson, joins us in our firehouse studio. She is the Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
We look at the story of journalist and doctor Ali Fadhil, who was detained by U.S. forces in Iraq. On January 8th, American troops in Baghdad blasted their way into Ali Fadhil’s home, an Iraqi journalist working for the London daily, The Guardian, and TV’s Channel 4 in Britain. Fadhil joins us in our Firehouse studio to describe his harrowing experience. [includes rush transcript]
There is still no word on kidnapped American journalist Jill Caroll. On Monday, her father Jim, appeared on CNN and urged her kidnappers to release her alive. She was seized in Baghdad on January 7th. Meanwhile, The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called for the U.S. military to free two journalists, one held without charge in Iraq and the other detained at Guantanamo Bay. CPJ also demanded an explanation from the U.S. military for holding a Reuters TV cameraman for eight months without charges until his release on Sunday.
Today we look at the story of another journalist who was also detained by US forces in Iraq–Ali Fadhil. On January 8th, American troops in Baghdad blasted their way into Ali Fadhil’s home, an Iraqi journalist working for the London daily, The Guardian, and TV’s Channel 4 in Britain. Soldiers reportedly entered his home and fired bullets into the bedroom where he and his wife and children were sleeping. Fadhil was hooded and questioned for several hours. He says U.S. troops gave him $1,500 dollars for damage to his home and then dropped him off alone in a dangerous Baghdad neighborhood.
In November, Fadhil won the Foreign Press Association award for young journalist of the year. He’s currently at work on a documentary about the US and British governments’ misuse of Iraqi funds.
Fadhil says U.S. troops have not returned several videotapes they took from him. The director of the documentary, Callum Macrae, said, "The timing and nature of this raid is extremely disturbing. It is only a few days since we first approached the U.S. authorities and told them Ali was doing this investigation, and asked them then to grant him an interview about our findings."
- Ali Fadhil, award-winning journalist and general physician. He arrived in the US from Baghdad two days ago.
Ali Fadhil’s account of U.S. forces raiding his house.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Fadhil joins us in our Firehouse studio for the first time since he’s come to the United States yesterday. In addition to being an award-winning journalist, Ali is a general physician. He arrived in the U.S. from Baghdad this week. Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.
ALI FADHIL: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: So, first describe for us what happened to you on January 8. This was actually the day after Jill Carroll, the U.S. journalist was kidnapped.
ALI FADHIL: Yeah, exactly. And I think it’s [inaudible] abduction. The U.S. forces came at 12:30, after midnight, and they raided the house. They used explosives on the three doors of the house.
AMY GOODMAN: What time was it?
ALI FADHIL: 12:30, after midnight.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you sleeping?
ALI FADHIL: Yes, we were sleeping, all of us, because there is no electricity in Iraq, so we sleep early. We were sleeping, me, my wife, and my kids on one bed in our room, and the rest of the house, they were sleeping downstairs. We just heard the explosion, and then all of the windows were broken down. We thought there is a kind of mortar or rocket fallen on our house. After that, my wife called me to go downstairs, but I just said, "Let’s just wait." In just seconds, we saw a rifle coming out through the door and shooting a couple of bullets inside the room. We did not know where, he was just shooting. I covered my wife and my child — my daughter Sarah and Adam.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are they?
ALI FADHIL: Well, Sarah, she’s 3 years, and Adam, 7 months. And they were — you know, they were crying and shouting and my wife also crying, and just seconds we saw American soldiers surrounding the bed. One of them took me from the bed, and he threw me, hurled me out of the bed on the ground, and he tied my hands after searching me. My daughter, Sarah, she was crying, and she was afraid from Americans previously actually. Whenever she sees them in the streets, she’s afraid from them. Even she calls Iraqi soldiers Americans. She can’t differentiate. So, she was calling for me, "Daddy! Daddy! Americans, they’re going to take you," as she always said. After that, they — I tried to ask them for the reason why they came here, what they are looking for.
AMY GOODMAN: And you could speak to them. You speak English.
ALI FADHIL: Yeah, exactly. I tried to explain that I’m a reporter. They didn’t care, and they just told me to shut up. Minutes later, they took me downstairs, and they walked me down with tied hands. I was looking to the house. There was about 20 soldiers in the house. They were smashing furniture, looking everywhere, I don’t know for what at that time. And after that, they took me to the living room, where they were also searching. They told me to sit on a chair, and one of them came and he hooded my face. And then he brought a dog who was barking on me. It was barking on me, and he threatened me if I talk one word the dog going to bite me.
AMY GOODMAN: He put a hood over your head?
ALI FADHIL: Yeah, a hood over my head. And after that — and the dog was barking on me. After that, one of the soldiers or maybe a captain — I don’t know exactly — he came to me with a Handycam camera I usually use in my work, and there’s a tape rolling inside, and he said, "Watch this and explain to me why you have this?" And I watched it. It was a tape from me from Palestine Hotel balcony, shooting into the Green Zone, and I was talking to the camera. And I said, "Yes, I shot this tape. I took it two days ago from Palestine Hotel." And he said, "Do you know that these places were targeted recently?" I said, "No, it wasn’t, because yesterday I was inside the Green Zone at the anniversary for the Iraqi army, and there was shooting, filming, inside the Green Zone, and nothing is there."
Then he left me and returned back to me after minutes, and he said, "Are you a reporter?" I said, "Yes, I am." And I explained whom I am working for and–— the Guardian Films, British TV, Channel 4. And he said, "This house belongs to someone whose name is Ali Mahmoud al-Mashhadani. I said, "No, no way. This house belongs to my father-in-law. His name is Abdul Karim Abbas Hamoudi. And he’s been living here eight years. He built this house. And Masshadani is a Sunni house, while this house is a Shiite house. If you go to the other room, you’ll see a big picture of Imam Ali, which is an indicator that this is a Shiite house."
Later on, he left me for like half an hour maybe and returned back to me with a paper, a document, in his hand, and he showed me a picture of a lady. I didn’t know who is she at the time, wearing big eyeglasses. I recognized that she could be the reporter kidnapped near my neighborhood. I said, "I don’t know. Maybe she’s the reporter." He said, "Yes, she is. How do you know her?" I said, "I don’t know, I just heard in the news." And then he said, "Do you know where is she?" I said, "No." He said, ’She’s in this house." I said, "No, she’s not." And he showed me another picture of a man with a beard, and he said, "Do you know this guy?" I said, "Yes, I know this guy." He said, "How do you know him?" I said, "Well, because his picture is inside the Green Zone at the convention center where we go always, we reporters, journalists, and I know that he’s wanted for the U.S. forces." And he said, "He’s living in this house." I said, "No, he’s not."
Then, he left me for a while. He came with another captain, an officer. And they were talking to me nicely this time. And they said, "We need to investigate with you. We need information. But we can’t do it properly here. We need to take you somewhere else and do the investigation, and then we will release you after one hour." I said, "It’s fine, if you’re taking just me, me alone, and not taking anyone in the house." They said, "Yes, we just will take you. But we have to keep your hands tied, and we’ll hood your face. This is for you and for us, for the safety." And they put me in an armed vehicle, and the armed vehicle drove like for maybe half an hour, or more than that, less, I couldn’t tell, and for a long distance, actually.
And finally, I found myself in a small room with wooden walls and an oval table in the middle and the refrigerator and the bed on the ground. And there was an American soldier with a pistol, and he was guarding me. Seconds later on, two civilians, Americans, came into the room, and they were wearing vests. And they said, "Mr. Fadhil do you know why you are here?" I said, "Yes, to investigate me." He said, "No, there was a mistake, and we apologize for what happened. We’re going to release you as soon as the curfew ends in the morning." I said, "So, you didn’t come for the reporter?" He said, "We can’t say anything. That’s all what we can say, and that’s it." I said, "Then, what about the damages for the house and the compensations?" He said, "Of course, in the morning, people will come and negotiate with you the compensations."
And they offered for me the bed, and I tried to sleep, but, you know, because of the shock, it was very difficult for me to sleep. I was thinking about what’s happening back at home. Windows were, you know, were broken, and it’s very cold and the house is damaged. And my daughter, I didn’t know what she’s doing at that time. After that, I woke up in the morning, two men, also two different civilian men, Americans, they were wearing vests and clothes looked like the local — the private security people in Baghdad, and they said, "Mr. Fadhil, excuse us, we want to talk with you, and now we can release you." I said, "Okay."
And they took an envelope out of — one of them took an envelope out of his pocket. There was money, cash money, 100 bills, and he said, "This is the money for the compensations. We’ll offer you — this is $1,000 for the damages of the house. And this is $500 for the time you spent with us here in detention." And I said, "It’s fine." I didn’t negotiate anything. I didn’t say anything. I just want to go out and see my family, because it’s, for me, I thought it’s going be longer than this. But I was feeling alright. I mean, it was a mistake, obviously. I took the money. I signed three documents, each one, for the 500 bills — for the 500 dollars. And then they also they folded my eyes and my hands, they tied my hands and they — actually now they released my hands at that time.
They took me in a civilian car, four-wheel drive car, and they drove right and left — I couldn’t figure where I am at the beginning — and then they released me in a place. When I removed the hood from my eyes, I saw barricades, long barricades, about three meters high barricades from each side. And I didn’t know where exactly. They gave me money for the taxi. And I walked out of the barricades. I found myself in the south gate of the Green Zone in an area which is very, very dangerous, very well known for car bombs and assassinations, because it’s the gate where Iraqis working for Americans in the Green Zone come in and out from.
And I took a cab, went back home. I found the house worse than I expected. The car that we have, a BMW, it was damaged, and all of the windows broken, the furniture smashed. My wife, she was crying when she saw me. She hugged me, and she didn’t believe I’m released. And I found one of my — my brother-in-law, he was beaten a lot by the American forces, because he doesn’t speak English. He couldn’t understand what they want from him. And also my father-in-law, he was beaten, and he had some wounds on his chest because of the glass. They clubbed him on the ground, and there was some glass. So that’s what I found.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Fadhil, Iraqi journalist who has done a documentary that we’re going to air for the first time in this country. But that tape that they showed you, in your camera, do you have it now?
ALI FADHIL: No, actually. No. I lost that tape. I couldn’t find it when I came back home. I couldn’t find that tape. It’s just one tape which shows me standing on the balcony and some shots of the Green Zone, which we thought of using it in the film we are working on right now for Channel 4.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you ask for it back?
ALI FADHIL: Yes, of course. We asked for it. And Channel 4 asked for it from the U.S. embassy, and recently, before a few days, we received a letter from Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, for an apology for what happened, and he denied that there is any tape taken from my house.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about Channel 4 talking to the U.S. forces before you were taken away, before they raided your house, to tell them that you were doing this film and wanted to interview them?
ALI FADHIL: Yeah, you see, the film we’re working on, it’s on the reconstruction. It’s kind of dangerous to say that I’m working on this film while I’m moving in different cities, because it’s [inaudible]as for my security, it has [inaudible] for the film that we’re working on, because we can’t find anything. So what happened is recently, the Channel 4 people, they contacted the U.S. side for permissions for interviews with people responsible for the reconstruction in Iraq. And that’s why Channel 4 people, they have their own concerns about the timing of the raid. But myself, I would say it’s a mistaken identity. This is what I believe.
AMY GOODMAN: Ali Fadhil is our guest, has just come to this country. He is making one film now, was arrested in the midst of making that film. When we come back from break, we’re going play an excerpt of the film he finished for Channel 4 called Fallujah: The Real Story.
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