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Iraqis Liken U.S. Occupation to Saddam Hussein Regime

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As the number of disturbing photos coming out of Abu Ghraib continues to multiply, Aaron Glantz of Free Speech Radio News speaks with families protesting outside the gates of the notorious Iraqi prison. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush apologized for the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers for the first time since photographs documenting the abuse first emerged a week ago.

The release of the photographs has caused widespread national and international outrage, especially across the Arab world. With King Abdullah of Jordan at his side Bush addressed the nation and the world.

  • President Bush, speaking at the Rose Graden on May 6, 2004

Bush had come under heavy criticism for not apologizing for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in his appearances on two Arabic-language television networks a day earlier. But many pundits believe that Bush’s apology at the Rose Garden came too-little, too-late.

  • Aaron Glantz of Free Speech Radio News, reporting from outside the prison walls of Abu Ghraib outside from Baghdad

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, and I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from Seattle, Washington. At the end of today’s program, we’ll be speaking with Seattle congressmember Jim McDermott. President Bush has apologized for the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers for the first time since photographs documenting the abuse first emerged a week ago. The release of the photographs has caused widespread national and international outrage, especially in the arab world. With King Abdullah of Jordan at his side, Bush addressed the nation and the world.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We also talked about what has been on the TV screens recently, not only in our country but overseas. The images of cruelty and humiliation. I told his majesty as plainly as I could, that the wrongdoers will be brought to justice, and that the actions of those folks in Iraq do not represent the values of the United States of America. I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families. I told him I was equally sorry that people that been seeing those pictures didn’t understand the true nature and heart of America. I assured him that Americans like me didn’t appreciate what we saw. It made us sick to our stomachs.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking at the Rose Garden yesterday. He had come under heavy criticism for not apologizing for the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in his appearances on two arabic language television networks a day earlier. But many pundits say the Bush apology at the Rose Garden is too little, too late. Aaron Glantz reports from Baghdad.

AARON GLANTZ: The number of disturbing photos coming out of Abu Ghraib continues to multiply. The latest picture obtained by the New Yorker magazine shows a dead inmate wrapped in cellophane and packed in ice. Another photograph showed an empty room at the Abu Ghraib prison splattered with blood. On the streets of Baghdad, people are increasingly saying that the U.S. occupation is the same as Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. When asked to respond to those sentiments by the Pentagon-funded arabic language TV station Al-Hurra, President George Bush refused to apologize.

GEORGE W. BUSH: It’s also important for the people of Iraq to know that in a democracy, everything is not perfect. That mistakes are made. But in a democracy as well, those mistakes will be investigated, and people will be brought to justice.

AARON GLANTZ: But such statements aren’t going over well on the streets of Iraq. “There is no God but God, and America is the enemy of God,” hundreds of families chant at the gates of Abu Ghraib. Tariq’s brother is behind bars along with his 73-year-old father. Like most of those inside Abu Ghraib, they have been incarcerating for opposing the occupation. Tariq says his father, a senior sheikh from the ancient city of Samarra, suffers from high blood pressure and diabetes, but has received no insulin since he was arrested eight months ago. He says he hasn’t been able to see his brother, so he has no idea if he’s become a victim of American torture. A few hours after hundreds of people marched on Abu Ghraib prison, the situation has returned to normal. As under the reign of Saddam Hussein, scores of Iraqis huddle outside the barbed wire that circles the prison, hoping for a chance to see their loved ones. Few of the families waiting outside Abu Ghraib have been granted a visit. And many of those with loved ones in American custody have not even been told where their family members are being held. Zahara Ibd Ali’s 21-year-old son was arrested by the U.S. military a year ago in a raid that destroyed her house. She has heard rumors that American troops killed him, but she hasn’t yet given up hope.

ZAHARA IBD ALI: I have been to every prison in Iraq. In Tikrit, Nasiriyah, um Qasr… Whenever anyone tells me a place, I will go there. I have sold everything, and I am even ready to sell my pots because I don’t have any money to go anywhere anymore. It’s not a problem if they just give me the dead body of my son. And if he’s alive, they have to let me see him. And if he’s dead, they have to bring me his body.

AARON GLANTZ: Another of those waiting outside the prison gates is Abdul Rachman Abdul Razak Hassen, a former Army general who was purged from the military when Saddam Hussein became Iraq’s president in 1979. He hasn’t been able to see his three sons, who are all behind bars at Abu Ghraib. He’s also angry about the way they were arrested. First, he says, the American army destroyed his house.

ABDUL RACHMAN ABDUL RAZAK HASSEN: If you want something, you just have to knock on the door and ask. You don’t have to come this way. They bombed the door. They destroyed all of the furniture and took every paper in the home. The I.D.'s, the money, the gold, the diamond. They didn't leave anything. And then he said, it’s not you we are looking for, it’s your sons. We are very sorry. And I told him, this sorry is not one that’s paid in cash.

AARON GLANTZ: After that, Abdul Rachman says the American military turned its attention to his farm, attacking it with humvees, tanks and bulldozers.

ABDUL RACHMAN ABDUL RAZAK HASSEN: And they didn’t find anything until they destroyed my whole farm and even the farmhouse there. It’s all worth about $1 million. I have 19,000 chickens worth $250,000. They’re all gone now. The Americans killed them.

AARON GLANTZ: Across Iraq, victims of the American penal system are easy to find. 62-year-old Sheikh Abu Yasin al-Zawi was arrested by the American military a month ago for calling Israel’s assassination of Hamas leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin “state terrorism” during Friday prayers.

SHEIKH ABU YASIN AL-ZAWI: They arrived at the mosque at 5:00 p.m. and surrounded the area with hummers and tanks and they said, “you said bad things about the coalition list in Friday’s prayers and your son said bad things, too.” So they took my son, too.

AARON GLANTZ: Sheikh al-Zawi wasn’t taken to Abu Ghraib. He and his son were taken to an American military base near his mosque, where he says they were subject to some of the same practices seen in the photographs on 60 Minutes and in the Washington Post.

SHEIKH ABU YASIN AL-ZAWI: They They kept me in a very small cell without any type of bed or blanket. The soldier didn’t allow me to wash for prayer, and they put a hood over my face. Then they didn’t bring us food, and even when I wanted to go to the toilet, it was very complicated because the soldier would come with his gun and point if at me while I was on the toilet.

AARON GLANTZ: Sheikh al-Zawi was lucky. After 12 days, the Americans released him. He had been sent to Abu Ghraib, he likely wouldn’t have been released for months. Sheikh Ahmed Yahir al-Samarai, who has a brother and two sons incarcerated at Abu Ghraib, explains how two of his sons who run an auto parts store in Baghdad were arrested by the American army.

SHIEKH AHMED YAHIR AL-SAMARAI: They surrounded us. They also took two cars. One was a new Mercedes and the other was a Toyota pickup. They also took American dollars from the shop as well as Iraqi currency. They took all of the copy-books and broke everything in the shop.

AARON GLANTZ: Now Sheikh Ahmed Yahir and his wife are doing their best to raise five grandchildren on their own. They haven’t been able to visit either of their sons, but they have been able to piece together a picture of life in Abu Ghraib from a few who have been released. Sheikh Ahmed Yahir’s wife, Um Omar.

UM OMAR YAHIR AL-SAMARAI: Even Saddam Hussein didn’t treat people as bad as the Americans. They let them three days standing without any food. They’re holding them in a tent with lots of other people, without electricity, and the only water is warm water.

AARON GLANTZ: But as angry as they are about the imprisonment of their two sons, their feelings cannot compare to how they feel about the death of a third son at the hands of the American army. Sheikh Ahmed Yahir explains what happened when two of his sons were stopped by the American Army on the road from Baghdad to the northern city of Samara.

SHIEKH AHMED YAHIR AL-SAMARAI: They told them to get out of the car. They ran over the car with the tank. At 1:00 in the morning, the Americans took them to a dam over Samara. The water is quick and powerful. The Americans told them to jump into the Tigris river. You know, it’s a place where if you throw a piece of wood in it, it will shatter into pieces. One of my sons survived. The other one was found dead in the river 14 days later.

AARON GLANTZ: The American Army has sent a note of apology to Sheikh Ahmed Yahir and his family, and paid $6,000 in compensation for the destruction of the family car. But there has been no apology for the death of one son, and the imprisonment of two others. For Democracy Now!, I’m Aaron Glantz in Baghdad, Iraq.

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