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Victim of Despot's Cruelty 'Recalls the Horrors'

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2004 – If the rooms within Abu Ghraib could talk, they'd likely recount tales of the unspeakable.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Iraqi Salah Znad grasps a glass with his new prosthetic right hand May 28 at the Pentagon. Znad had had his hand cut off in 1995 while a prisoner at Abu Ghraib. He and six other Iraqis who'd suffered under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime each recently received new hands, thanks to American benefactors. Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

"My misfortune is that I fell into trouble with the Saddam regime," Znad explained through an interpreter during a May 28 interview at the Pentagon.

Znad said he was arrested Aug. 21, 1994, for discussing currency exchange rates over the telephone and spent five months at Abu Ghraib. During his imprisonment in early 1995 Hussein's minions cut off his hand, the Baghdad resident said.

That wasn't all. Znad pointed to his forehead where a faint "x" could still be seen, despite surgery performed to remove it. Saddam's jailors, he explained, had tattooed the symbol - meant to mark Znad as a criminal -- just above his eyes.

Yet, today brings happier times for the 38-year-old schoolteacher and fellow Abu Ghraib victims Laith Agar, Hassan Al Gearawy, Qasim Kadhim, Basim Al Fadhly, Nazaar Joudi and Al-laa Hassan. Now, all boast new, prosthetic right hands, courtesy of various American benefactors.

The group was flown to Houston in early April to receive new hands and to have the "x" tattoos removed. After recuperation the Iraqis came to Washington and visited wounded U.S. service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and also met with President Bush at the White House May 25.

Znad said he is grateful for Saddam's ouster in April 2003 by U.S.-coalition forces. Although bloodshed continues in his country in the post-Saddam era, he noted Iraqis "have hope now."

After losing the 1990-91 Gulf War, Saddam tightened his hold on the Iraqi people, Znad noted. That's why, he observed, the dictator had made an example of him and his fellow prisoners. Most Iraqis, he said, "were frustrated" with Hussein's brutal regime, but felt helpless to confront it.

"We expected his children would take his place if he should die, and their children," Znad remarked, noting that in this way Saddam's regime "would rule for 10,000 years to come."

The former dictator's elaborate palaces located throughout Iraq, Znad pointed out, prove that Hussein believed his family's rule would emulate the dynasties of the ancient pharaohs of Egypt.

Dr. Joseph Agris is a Houston plastic surgeon that had helped during the operations that provided new hands for Znad and the others. He confirmed nine Iraqis had lost their hands in the group that included Znad. One person, he said, died in Abu Ghraib prison soon after the amputation. The other, he noted, refused the offer to receive a new hand.

It's understandable, Agris observed, that some people would become untrusting and apprehensive after being subjugated to Saddam's torture.

"It was psychotic," he declared, noting the Iraqis' severed hands were put in a preservative and then placed into a basket.

"The basket was then delivered to Saddam," the doctor recalled, so that the dictator could be sure his mandate was carried out. Saddam, he noted, also had videotape shot showing the amputations.

"It's not something anyone wants to see," Agris, who saw the videotape, asserted, noting a person wearing a black hood crudely removed the prisoners' hands with a scalpel.

Filmmaker Don North saw the gruesome video when he was in Iraq working in Baghdad last year. North became determined to do something to help the victims.

"I tracked them down, found them, and asked them if I could tell their story," North recalled. Seven of the eight Iraqis agreed to participate, and North's hour-long documentary, titled, 'Remembering Saddam,' was recently completed. The film, he noted, contains footage of the Iraqis' amputations in Abu Ghraib prison.

So far, the former ABC and NBC news war correspondent noted, no media outlets have shown interest in airing the documentary.

North said he's now shooting another video, titled, "Forgetting Saddam," that documents the Iraqis' experiences in Houston and their visit to Washington.

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