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"Now I Will Die": Beaten and Held in Prison Without Charge by the U.S. in Iraq

Hussam Amin's story is not one the Bush Administration meant to be heard, at least not for a while.

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Eventually Amin would entrust me with one of the few things he managed to take with him when he was quietly released from custody just before Christmas in 2005: 40 pages of an illicit diary he kept during his captivity at Camp Cropper, the U.S.-run prison for "high value detainees” near Baghdad– the only first-person account to emerge so far from the war’s secret-most cells .

The Black Bag: ‘Now I will die’

In Amin’s telling, the weeks immediately following the invasion found him moving furtively around Baghdad, dogged by overtures from an Iraqi-American physician rumored to be working with the CIA, offering, through relatives, to help Amin turn himself in. Then, on April 12, 2003, Amin’s friend and former colleague, chemical engineer Amer al-Sa’adi (the "Seven of Diamonds” on the card deck, also a high-profile liaison to the U.N. before the war), made a gallant public surrender, declaring before news cameras that he would prove to America that Iraq had been honest all along. Amin made what he calls a patriotic decision to join al-Sa’adi and arranged a meeting.

Amin was given the address of a house in the Karada section of Baghdad, from which he was taken in a small convoy of cars to a former presidential site in Ramadi and turned over to the U.S. military. There, he said, he was interrogated for several hours by a "respectful, logical and professional” American colonel with a "good background” on Iraq’s prior WMD programs. Afterwards, he said, he and the colonel shared lunch.

It was shortly after lunch, Amin said, that he was suddenly overwhelmed by soldiers, his hands and feet bound and a black bag pulled over his head. They hustled him away to a Saddam-era base that U.S. forces used as the first stop for their top prisoners.

Camp Nama was run by a secretive U.S. Joint Special Operations task force, and was off-limits even to most military personnel. Those who did have access retained operational anonymity -- few knew even each other by their real names. The CIA would eventually become worried enough about being associated with what went on there that it barred employees from setting foot inside.

His senses swimming in the suffocating blackout bag, Amin couldn’t anticipate where the next blow was coming from, he said -- or whether it would be a punch, a kick or a whack with "some kind of special metal stick” as unseen interrogators demanded the location of nonexistent weapons. He lost track of time, unsure whether he’d been there hours or days. At some point amid the fusillade, he was told that he would be executed. He believed it. He felt blood running down his face and neck -- three jagged gashes across his forehead that would require stitches. "Every day, I thought, ‘Now, I will die,’” he said -- which was precisely the point: He was in "Purgatory,” the task force’s nickname for the initial interrogation/disorientation ordeal.

At some point his captors briefly removed the bag. He was ordered to lie on his side and keep his eyes fixed to the wall inches from his face. It hurt to breathe. He tucked his head in and snuck a glance at his chest: It was black with bruises. Each time he nodded off, one of his minders would kick him or hit him with the stick. "Even when you are sleeping, they beat you,” he told me, shaking his head slowly. "You wake by punching.”

For Amin, Purgatory would last five days, he said, after which he was packed off to Camp Cropper, a large prison near Baghdad Airport holding thousands of detainees, and logged into a solitary cell.

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