Telltale Signs of Torture Lead Family to Demand Answers
by Dahr Jamail
Part of the following feature story was first reported by Baghdad correspondent Dahr Jamail back in January, when almost no one was paying attention to stories of the horrifying treatment dealt to Iraqi prisoners by their Western captors. Now that the world has deemed the topic newsworthy, Jamail has returned to the story for more thorough coverage. As part of our mission, The NewStandard will continue to pursue this and other stories like it in the near future. As any Iraq correspondent who speaks with Iraqis can attest, there is no shortage of them.
Baghdad, May 4 - Not all evidence of military personnel mistreating Iraqis held in US custody come from leaks within the American- and British-run detention facilities. In many cases, such as that of Sadiq Zoman, 57, who last year entered US custody healthy but left in a vegetative state, the story originates with family members desperate to share their loved one's story with anyone willing to listen.
American soldiers detained Zoman at his residence in Kirkuk on July 21, 2003 when they raided the Zoman family home in search of weapons and, apparently, to arrest Zoman himself.
More than a month later, on August 23, US soldiers dropped Zoman off, already comatose, at a hospital in Tikrit. Although he was unable to recount his story, his body bore telltale signs of torture: what appear to be point burns on his skin, bludgeon marks on the back of his head, a badly broken thumb, electrical burns on the soles of his feet. Additionally, family members say they found whip marks across his back and more electrical burns on his genitalia.
The NewStandard has obtained photographs taken by staff at the Salahadeen Hospital in Tikrit, footage shot by an Al Jazeera camera crew shortly after Zoman's arrival there, as well as documents tracing some of the Iraqi man's journey through his captivity and then through the civilian medical establishment.
According to the Army paperwork, the only identifying information provided to Iraqi medical personnel upon Zoman's transfer from US military to Iraqi civilian care was an incorrect name. A transfer form signed by Colonel Donald M. Campbell, Jr., 4th Infantry Division (4th ID) Chief of Staff, states that Zoman, considered a "security detainee," was to be transferred to a Combat Support Hospital, and then be returned to 4th ID custody "if he recovers."
The form provided no information as to where he had been picked up, no address and no other personally identifying information. His family claimed that when Zoman was initially detained, American soldiers had taken all of his personal papers and identification.
US Army documentation and interviews obtained so far also lack details of what happened to Zoman while in US Army custody for interrogation.
The Zoman family has been able to reconstruct a rough story of Sadiq's incarceration from eyewitness accounts related by neighbors who were detained at the same time. They say Zoman was first held at the Kirkuk Airport Detention Center, then transferred still healthy to Al-Ka'ad, a school the Army had converted into a detention facility. On August 6, witnesses said, he was moved to a base in Tikrit where they say he was beaten.
Major Josslyn Aberle, Public Affairs Officer at the 4th Infantry Division, said that Zoman's injuries were not inflicted by soldiers from the 4th ID or other Army units involved in capturing and holding Zoman. While not immediately able to trace Zoman's full history while in US custody, she said the types of injuries described by Zoman's family, doctors and photographs "just absolutely would not be tolerated" by the military.
Aberle continued, "Throughout our task force, the few incidents of detainee mistreatment were investigated immediately and those soldiers involved were punished underneath the uniform code of military justice. In one case that [led to] a soldier being court martialed. When we found out about any types of mistreatment of detainees or Iraqi citizens, any allegations were treated seriously and investigated immediately because that type of behavior was not tolerated." Aberle said none of those cases of detainee mistreatment was related to the Zoman case, nor did they involve beatings.
According to further US military documentation, on August 11, Mr. Zoman was transferred to the 28th Combat Support Hospital, where he was treated by Lieutenant Colonel Michael C. Hodges, M.D.
Lt. Col. Hodges' medical report listed the primary diagnoses of Zoman's condition as hypoxic brain injury (brain damage caused by lack of oxygen) "with persistent vegetative state," myocardial infarction (heart attack), and heat stroke. The same medical report did not mention any bruises, lash marks, head injury, burn marks or other signs Iraqi doctors said they found on Zoman's body upon his arrival at Tikrit hospital nearly two weeks later.
The report said previous care providers had verbally stated, upon transferring Zoman to the Combat Support Hospital, that Zoman had been conscious enough to complain of "chest pain that radiated into his arm" earlier that day. At that point, the report says, Zoman was treated with a nitroglycerine tablet and intravenous fluids before being "returned to the prison population," only to be brought back to medics later, "shaking and unresponsive."
Asked to comment on the treatment described in the medical report, physician Jules Marsh of Takoma, WA pointed out numerous concerns with the treatment Zoman received in military custody. "The fact that they administered nitroglycerine indicates that they were at least suspicious his chest pain was of cardiac origin," Dr. Marsh said. "The fact that it responded to the nitroglycerine certainly raises that suspicion. With the possible exception that the patient has a history of stable angina, which isn't indicated in the report, this should have prompted a further workup on an emergency basis."
Regarding medical treatment afforded Iraqi detainees in custody, Major Aberle said, "There's no difference in the care that a detainee receives than the care a US soldier receives."
The medical report of Lt. Col. Hodges concluded with a statement that was later upheld by Iraqi doctors in Baghdad: "This patient will need extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy but he, unfortunately, has less than 1% chance of any meaningful neurological recovery at this time."
According to documentation, on August 23, after two weeks of care at the Combat Support Hospital, the Army transferred Zoman from the Combat Support Hospital to the civilian Salahadeen Hospital in Tikrit.
The Zoman family found Sadiq there on September 4, 2003, only because the Red Crescent of Tikrit had posted photos of him on buses around Tikrit in hopes someone would recognize him. Remarkably, a friend saw one of the pictures and contacted the family.
Zoman has nine daughters; the oldest is 32 and the youngest 15. He was the assistant manager of a hospital in Kirkuk. Zoman appears to have been a member of the Ba'ath party. Under the Saddam Hussein regime, government administration jobs were only available to people who joined the Ba'ath party.
Rheem Zoman, the 19 year-old daughter of Sadiq, spoke frankly about her father and his condition. "I was horrified," she said of his bittersweet return to his worried family. "He had whip marks all across his back and electrical burn marks all over his body."
The alleged mistreatment of Sadiq Zoman while in US custody came as no surprise to his friends and neighbors. Some of them had returned after having been abducted by US forces with their own stories of terrifying and heartbreaking ordeals.
And after a year of occupation, stories like Zoman's may come as no surprise to the American public, now that evidence of torture presently receives mainstream attention in the wake of revelations by CBS, The Mirror and The New Yorker of widespread abuses taking place inside US- and British-run Iraqi prisons.
But with untold thousands of prisoners held at least temporarily at military bases throughout Iraq, cases like that of Sadiq Zoman suggest the problem may extend beyond the major holding facilities to more remote stations. There unit commanders and military counter-intelligence personnel hold and interrogate Iraqis even before many of the detainees reach prison facilities like the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
Zoman's family said he was in perfect health before US soldiers took him away. They further insist no firearms, bombs, or other incriminating evidence was ever found by the search that accompanied Zoman's capture by US troops. They said that when US soldiers entered their home to detain Zoman the front door was smashed in, furniture broken and torn apart, and money, gold and jewelry looted by the troops.
The Army has so far offered no explanation of why the Zoman home was raided or the reason for Zoman's capture.
Sadiq Zoman remains completely unresponsive. His family cares for him in a stark home nearly devoid of furnishings, situated in the Al-Dora neighborhood of Baghdad. The family moved there from Kirkuk last fall in order to facilitate better care and conditions for Zoman. The family has sold nearly everything that remained after the Army raid to purchase food and medical supplies. Entire rooms in their new Baghdad home are completely empty since nearly all their furnishings have been sold off.
None of the Zoman daughters has work, owing to the skyrocketed post-war unemployment situation. Sadiq Zoman himself has no pension, since he was a government employee.
Hashimi Zoman, Sadiq's wife, standing over her comatose husband with a paper fan to cool him, remarked, "We make his food with a blender because it must be liquid. But with no electricity there is no blender, so no food for him at times." The family keeps electrical fans over Sadiq's bed, but when the power cuts, they switch to laborious manual cooling to fend off the mid-day heat.
Daughter Rheem said, "You see our situation. We often don't have electricity, only six hours per day, so we take turns fanning him to keep him cool."
The family of Sadiq Zoman says they have received no explanation, nor any compensation for his situation from either the US military or the US-run Coalition Provisional Authority.
Major Aberle said the 4th Infantry Division, now back at Fort Hood, Texas, maintained that Iraqi detainees are treated well because of the need to establish credibility among the Iraqi people. "Building the trust, building the relationships between the Iraqis and coalition forces -- that is so critical. When you have an instance of a detainee being allegedly abused or treated improperly, that makes us no different than the former regime."
Daughter Rheem stated, "My father is a good man who helped so many people in our community. Why have they done this to him? Can you tell me? Everyone who knows him can say that he did so many good things to help people."
With tears in her eyes, Hashima Zoman added, "Is it fair for any man's family to be made to suffer like this? Is it right that his daughters must see him like this? Our lives will never be the same again, no matter what happens."
[NewStandard editor Brian Dominick contributed to this story]