"Now I Will Die": Beaten and Held in Prison Without Charge by the U.S. in Iraq
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Major General Hussam Mohammed Amin, named the "Six of Clubs” on the Bush Administration’s card deck of "Iraq’s Most Wanted,” had, perhaps, the most impossible job in pre-war Iraq.
Reporting to Saddam Hussein’s powerful deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, Amin was the man in the middle through 12 years of fractious international weapons inspections between the two American wars -- Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom -- charged with managing the cat-and-mouse between Saddam and the aggressive teams of United Nations weapons inspectors. He visited the U.N. in New York a dozen times over the years with Iraqi delegations, and his white-mustachioed face was well known to anyone following the weapons fray.
In December 2002, as the prospect of war grew increasingly inevitable, Amin coordinated Iraq’s "full and final” disclosure of chemical, biological and nuclear programs to the U.N. Iraq produced a 12,000-page declaration–12 CD-ROMs and 43 spiral-bound volumes -- that would be devoid of revelations, Amin told reporters, "because Iraq is clean of weapons of mass destruction.” He made one of his last public appearances at a Baghdad press conference two months later, in March 2003, as American troops massed on the Kuwaiti border.
As war rolled over the Iraqi regime, Amin disappeared from view. The only public information about him since was the announcement by U.S. Central Command that he was captured "on or around” April 27, 2003.
After the Iraqi insurgency began to dominate the news and the U.S. government figured out that Amin had essentially been telling the truth about WMD all along, the mechanical engineer was largely forgotten, except for sporadic interrogations about the Saddam regime. He was held without charges for nearly three years.
Amin’s story of his incarceration, related here for the first time, offers another instructive chapter in the scandalous history of detainee treatment -- one that encompasses both physical torture and the more subtle moral quandary of leaving prisoners to languish indefinitely without any meaningful legal process, the status quo for prisoners at U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. It again raises key questions the Obama Administration has yet to fully answer as it assumes control of America’s unconventional wars: How can it square urgent, real battlefield needs with the rule of law and the spirit of the nation’s ideals?
Hussam Amin’s story is not one the Bush Administration meant to be heard, at least not for a while.
"I am sorry,” Amin said, rebuffing me when I reached him, through a series of intermediaries, in the country of his exile far from Iraq. "We signed a paper, at the prison when we were released, [agreeing] not to talk to any media, or not to say anything. I am sorry,” he said again. "I am a refugee now.”
The "paper at the prison” Amin feared was his "Conditional Release Agreement” with Multinational Forces-Iraq, the U.S.-led military command, barring former prisoners from making political statements "inside or outside Iraq” for 18 months after their release, which also required the bond of a family member.
A few days later, however -- a few hours before my overnight flight back to New York -- Amin let me know that he would be sitting at a small coffee shop in his neighborhood. He’d be wearing a gray shirt, he said. He asked that I not bring along any Iraqis, or disclose his whereabouts.
"I do not tell this story, ever to anyone,” said the tentative, physically diminished 57-year-old man, crushing out a cigarette as we settled into a booth. But over the next several hours, Amin did tell the story, with an unsettling mix of humor, irony and anger.