Rabiha al Qassab, a British Iraqi woman who lives in London, describes the harrowing story of her husband, Ramze Shihab Ahmed. Having fled in 1998 after being accused of trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Ramze returned to Iraq last year to get his son out of prison. He, too, was arrested and was tortured. Like 30,000 other Iraqis, he and his son are being held without charge. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in London, England. Amnesty International here is condemning Iraq for holding an estimated 30,000 prisoners without trial. In a new report called “New Order, Same Abuses,” Amnesty documents how Iraqi prisoners are being arbitrarily detained and tortured to obtain forced confessions. Today, we hear the story of one those prisoners.
Ramze Shihab Ahmed is a sixty-eight-year-old former general in the Iraqi army who fled in 1998 after being accused of trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. His wife, Rabiha al Qassab also fled Iraq after her brother was executed by Hussein. They both got political asylum in Britain and settled in North London, where they lived a quiet life together. Then, last year, everything changed.
In September 2009, Ramze heard his son Omar had been arrested in Mosul by Iraqi security forces. Ramze decided to travel to Iraq several weeks later to try to help. Within a month, he, too, had been arrested. For months, his wife, Rabiha, didn’t know where he was. He was first held in a secret prison at the old Muthana Airport in Baghdad before being relocated to another prison. During his imprisonment, Ramze says he was tortured. He says plastic bags were placed on his head, he was electrocuted and sodomized. He’s now in a wheelchair. Well, it’s nearly ten months after his arrest, more than a year after his son’s arrest. He is still being held without charge or trial.
We went to visit Rabiha al Qassab at her home in North London when we flew into Britain on Saturday night. She told us the harrowing story of her husband’s detention and torture. She began by describing what he told a human rights group about his torture in the Iraqi jail.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: My husband exactly he said they put plastic bags on his face — this is the first thing — fifty times in a day. And when he lost his feeling, and he don’t feel anything, they put electric — a cable, electric, and they let him to shock.
AMY GOODMAN: They put electric cables on him and shocked him.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yes. And when he wake up, they put the plastic, this again, bag again. And the same, all the time the same things. And they put the stick in a bag — in the bag, and they put something from the gun. This is the small — this is the beginning of the gun, the — not the gun. I mean, the big gun, [inaudible]. They put in the bag. They seal. And they bring his son and ask him to rape his father, and the opposite. They said, “You must” — rape his son.
AMY GOODMAN: With this gun?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: And Omar, in that time, he said, “Please, please, let me — I talk what you want.” And he talk what the government want. He’s a general in the army.
AMY GOODMAN: Your husband was a general in the army.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: And they do this with him. It’s very bad. And they said to him, “If you don’t talk, you bring your grandson here, and you must rape him.” And our grandson is only thirteen years old.
AMY GOODMAN: When did you hear from him then?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: I don’t hear anything about him. And the British embassy, they contact all the government in Mosul. All the people in the Mosul, the prison, they ask. They said, “No, we don’t have any person in prison under this name.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, he’s picked up on December 7th. You don’t hear from him in December.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You don’t hear from him in January?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: February?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah, until 28th of March. My mobile ring, and I answer. Somebody else, I don’t know the voice. I said, “Who are you?” He said he is very sick, very — well, he said, “Me, Ramze, Ramze. Call embassy.” And they took the mobile, and they stop talking.
AMY GOODMAN: They hung up.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: And after he moving, he told me, they ask him — when they torture him, they ask him, “Call your wife and tell her to send $50,000 to us,” to these people in the al-Muthana Prison, “and we will let you free.” And he is clever. You know, he is in the army, and he is very clever. He said, “OK,” and they give him the same — his mobile, the one they took from him. And he called me from his mobile. And what he said, he don’t say to me, “Send money. Do you have money?” He said to me, “I am in this prison. I am — you must call British embassy.” But they don’t allow him to complete the sentence. They took him, and they torture him until he, like, die three days. They put electric shock, but they don’t wake — he don’t wake up, because how much torture him. A lot of his — all the people in the prison, they think he has died, because he went to tell me, and where is he and what happened to him.
AMY GOODMAN: So that call you got, where you didn’t even recognize his voice, that was the first call from your husband Ramze.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: The first call, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And he said where he was.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah. And when the counselor from the British embassy went and visit him, and he wrote report, and he took this picture to him —-
AMY GOODMAN: This is the picture -—
RABIHA AL QASSAB: This is the picture he took from the embassy. And he called me. The counsel in embassy called me, and he said, “You can talking with Ramze. Take your time.” And I talk with my husband, I think the 28th of April.
AMY GOODMAN: A month later is when you talked to him the second time.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah, yeah. But I am very, very shaken when the consul, he said they bring your husband and he used the wheelchair, because my husband, he is disability from the war between Iraq and Iran, but he used the stick, only this —-
AMY GOODMAN: Cane? A cane?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Only this. And when -— after I asked the counsel, he said, “Yes, he cannot walk now, because how much he broken the bone.” And I don’t know what happened. Until now, I don’t believe. They have a medical reporter, what happened to him. But, you know, because my husband, until now, the water — in full water is blood. But no — no treatment.
AMY GOODMAN: You mean his urine is blood.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah, until now.
AMY GOODMAN: This — I was looking at the pictures, and I saw a piece of paper. Can you tell me —- it has all sorts of English words and Arabic words. It says -—
RABIHA AL QASSAB: OK, I example to you. Like, you know, some words is — I never hear it before, and I find it in dictionary, and I wrote it, like “stick.” Can I use my glasses?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, sure.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Thank you. Like, to arrest in this jail, in Arabic, I find in Arabic, and I find it in the dictionary, what meaning is in English.
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re finding the English words, because you know only the Arabic words.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: To use it, yeah, yeah. And the difficult —-
AMY GOODMAN: And they are?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: The rape, to rape, to torture. To tortured is a verb. And escape or run away, the same. And a criminal -— this is what — and a secret agent. This is the special word I need to use it in my story. The same, the same.
AMY GOODMAN: This is the first time you used these words in English.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Is when it came —-
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Because I never -— I never use it in formal — in English language, these words.
AMY GOODMAN: So it has been eleven months since your husband was taken, and more, your stepson. What are you calling for? If they have been held in prison now, if they have been tortured, and they have not been charged with anything in Iraq, what are you asking for?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: I want to help my husband, because if he stay like until now, no courts, no — he asked the government, if you — I asked the Iraqi government — I asked the British government, ask the Iraqi government, if he is a criminal, took him to — they will take him to the court, yeah? If he don’t criminal, you will be free.
AMY GOODMAN: Amnesty International says 30,000 people are being held in the prisons of Iraq without charge. Do you know any other families here who are speaking out like you are about loved ones in Iraq in jail?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: In London? I don’t know. I don’t have — you know, I don’t have many contact with Iraqi.
AMY GOODMAN: So you feel very alone here.
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah, very, very. Not very — only, you know — before I spend my life in — because husband all the time an hour, but every day he call me in the morning, in the night. And I have a children. I look after him. I pick him the school. I help him with — to learn and to make the homework. But here, I don’t know. All the time I think about my husband. And to meet me, he ask me — I talking, and I feel — I feel very sad. And, you know, I like my husband too much. And when I don’t — I cannot make balance. This a very — general in the army, and they do very bad things to him. I cannot talk for these things. It’s very bad. I don’t believe — I don’t believe a human — fellow human being in the world can do these things. You believe this? I don’t know. I cannot believe. Sometimes I think, no, no, I am in the bad dream. Exactly, I said, maybe I wake up. I don’t hear all these things. He said, “No, no, no. No, I am here. I live with you. What is this dream?”
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I’m very sorry to cause you pain just by —-
RABIHA AL QASSAB: I go to park, and I feed the duck, and they call -— I talking with the ducks.
AMY GOODMAN: To the ducks?
RABIHA AL QASSAB: Yeah. I said, “You remember the man who gave you the food? He is in a prison. Ask the God to help him.”
AMY GOODMAN: Rabiha al Qassab. Her husband Ramze Shihab Ahmed is still in prison in Iraq. He’s been there for nearly a year without charge or trial.