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[casi] A Story of the Disappeared ...

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Sent: December 22, 2003 12:46

[The following account was written by Kathy Kelly, whose organisation
Voices in the Wilderness initiated the Iraq Peace Team. Kathy was put in
touch with the two Palestinian students, whose story you can read below,
by Montreal activist and journalist Stefan Christoff. Christoff is
currently in the Middle East where he has been supporting the efforts of
the "two troublemakers" to liberate their fellow students, still unjustly
and brutally imprisoned by occupation forces in Iraq. Et oui! on a besoin
des traductrices/-teurs benevoles! Please feel free to forward and post.]

The Two Troublemakers
By Kathy Kelly
December 21, 2003

Last evening, in Amman, we met with Fadi Elayyan and Jihad Tahboub, two
Palestinian young men who were imprisoned for two months, without charge,
by US Occupying forces who seized them, in Baghdad, on April 10, 2003.

They are trying to help four of their companions who are still held by the
military, presumably in a prison compound at Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq.

"On April 10, the US Marines kidnapped us," Jihad began in a matter of fact
tone. "We were students, and we stayed in Baghdad during the war because
we did not want to give up our studies or leave our friends. The Marines
wanted to occupy our building because it is high and gives a good view of
the area. "

Some of the students had Palestinian passports. When they asked what they
were guilty of, the soldiers said, "You are guilty of being Palestinian."
soldiers told them, "You are not studying education in Baghdad. You are
studying terrorism."

"We said that we had citizen IDs and we are students," said Fadi, but the
soldiers insisted, with guns pointed at their heads, "You are in Iraq and
are terrorists."

Fadi, age 24, had been living in Baghdad for six years. At the Mustansariya
University, he was three months short of achieving a degree in environmental
engineering. Jihad, age 23, studied hotel management.

Fadi and Jihad were released from a prison in Umm Qasr, in southern Iraq,
two months later, on June 10, after a US military Tribunal issued each of
signed but undated documents stating that there was no evidence to support a
claim that he committed a belligerent act against the Coalition forces.
being released, they had to sign a document stating that the US military
no responsibility for what had happened to them while they were in custody.

"It was inhuman, the way they treated us," said Fadi. "For the first seven
we were given no food or water." On the first day, they were handcuffed and
taken to the Hasan Al Bakr Palace where they stayed overnight on wet
ground, outdoors. "We tried to bury ourselves in the sand to keep warmer,"
Fadi recalled. "All the time they were pointing their guns at us. They
made us feel that we are going to die now, they gonna kill us now." The
next day they were taken to Saddam Airport where they were again held
outside, in the cold,
without food. "They were laughing while they were searching us and
throwing us on the ground. They took pictures of us which they said they
would send back to their families in the US."

It was a full month before the International Commission of the Red Cross
enabled any contact between the students and their families.

>From the Saddam Airport, they were taken to the Imam Ali Air Base at
Nassiriyeh, traveling by truck. They stayed there two days, again
outdoors. If anyone screamed out, they were beaten, by hand or by rifle

>From the Imam Ali Air Base, they were moved to a huge prison compound in
Umm Qasr where approximately 10,000 prisoners were held. Civilian
prisoners were separated from combatants. At first they were held in an
area which consisted of 15 compounds, each compound holding around 500
prisoners. "They give you one blanket, but it's not enough. We did not
cover ourselves with the blanket, we used it as a mat," said Fadi.

"There was no place for us to stay in the big tent," he continued, "so we
our own tent by sticks. I asked for a stick from a guard who was outside the
fence. He didn't respond, so I asked, `Why don't you answer me?' He said,
`You are my enemy. I don't have to speak with you.' I asked, `Who said I
am your enemy?' He said, `If you say one more word, I will kill you.'"

After initial processing in the large compound they were moved to a second
part of the prison called "Bucca," named after a fireman who was killed at
The World Trade Center.

"There was a picture of the twin towers in front of the prison," said Jihad,
"just to make the soldiers feel they are doing the right thing, just to make
them feel it is in the right way."

Fadi and Jihad particularly detested the way their captors treated the
who were imprisoned with them. "There were 13 year old kids in with us,"
Fadi said. "Sometimes they would throw candies from their humvees,
shouting `Bark like a dog, and I'll throw you the candy'..Some of the
small children were crying in the night, asking to go home to their
families. We were trying to get them quiet."

"Some of the prisoners were criminals, thieves. They put the children with
them. Some of them tried to abuse children. We told the guards, they started

"One prisoner tried to rape a kid and he refused, so they made a cut on his

Occasionally, Fadi and Jihad would refuse to take their food because of
the way soldiers in "The Feeding Team" taunted them. "Say that you love
Bush and I will give you food," a soldier would say, before handing them a
bowl. "I told them, `I don't love Bush. I don't love Saddam, I love only
myself,'" said Fadi, but a person has to have some honor. Telling them to
keep the food, Fadi added, "Let me go and I will cook my own food.'"

Fadi and Jihad tried to speak up on behalf of other prisoners. "They
called us
'the two troublemakers' because we were the only two that spoke English in
the whole compound.

"After seven days we tried to make our demands more organized. We didn't
ask anything about our legal situation because when we asked them they
said it is not our responsibility, so we started trying to make our living

"We were asking for enough food, potable water, water for washing
ourselves,-- skin diseases are contagious one from another. We were asking
for more medical support. Many people had to make a dressing change. Many
had to take injections."

They refused all our demands."

Sensing that some of the soldiers would be aware of Fadi's and Jihad's
of character, we asked if they ever encountered some sensitivity on the
part of
the soldiers. "Seldom would you find someone with feeling," was Fadi's
response. "Maybe the girls, they would have more feelings than men, but even
they kept on laughing when they'd see someone injured or in pain."

"The US soldiers are young, in their twenties, I don't believe that any
one of
them will feel regret. Most of them were saying, `If you do any wrong thing
will kill you.' Most of them don't have feelings, any kind of feelings. They
just do what they are told to do."

"They don't care," Jihad added. "One soldier was in a truck and she
pointed at
the American flag and she said, `This is your flag.'"

When they were finally brought before a tribunal, interrogators asked them
they had any information about weapons of mass destruction or if they knew
the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein. The judge at the tribunal, a military
officer, determined that they should be released from administrative
detention. Soldiers drove them to Basra, the nearest large city, gave them
each five dollars, and set them free.

Now "the troublemakers" are deeply troubled by the fate of their four
companions who are still imprisoned at Umm Qasr, "guilty" of being

Kathy Kelly
Voices in the Wilderness


The Iraq Solidarity Project is a Montreal-based grassroots initiative to
help provide international monitoring of occupation forces and the
reconstruction of Iraq and protective accompaniment to Iraqis under the

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