Iraqis recently freed from U.S. detention camps report that forbidden talk could earn a prisoner hours bound and stretched out in the sun and that detainees swinging tent poles rise up regularly against their jailers.
"They don't respect anyone, old or young," Rahad Naif said of his U.S. Army guards. He and others told of detainees in wheelchairs, and of a man carried into a stifling hot tent in his sickbed. "They humiliate everybody."
Naif, 31, is one of three brothers from Baghdad who were detained after a quarrel with a neighbor. They never faced charges; the last brother was freed Oct. 15.
The camps hold a mix of curfew-breakers and drivers who tried to evade U.S. checkpoints, suspected common criminals, anti-U.S. resistance fighters and Baath Party leaders. The U.S. says it holds 5,500 prisoners.
Naif's brother, Hassan, 32, who was released in September, said there were "good people" among the U.S. guards, like an older man the Iraqis respectfully dubbed "Al Haji," or pilgrim. Ex-detainees also say conditions improved at times, as new underwear, toothbrushes and other supplies arrived. On Oct. 1, the U.S. center considered the most notorious, Camp Cropper at Baghdad airport, was closed.
For the another brother, however, the bitterness is too fresh.
"They confined us like sheep," said Saad Naif, 38. "They hit people. They humiliated people."
Although details cannot be otherwise confirmed, interviews with half a dozen former detainees corroborated one another on key points, and meshed with what Amnesty International has heard from released Iraqis.
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, commander of Iraq's detention facilities, has said prisoners are treated humanely. Specific questions about ex-detainee accounts were submitted to the U.S. on Oct. 18, but no response has been received.
Amid summer temperatures topping 120 degrees, water was the first concern. There wasn't enough for drinking or washing, detainees said. Rahad Naif said 1,000 men in his part of Camp Bucca shared 10 taps.
Prisoners staged protests or hunger strikes almost every day, he added. "Sometimes we'd fight the Americans with tent poles. The Americans would come at us behind riot shields, firing plastic bullets."
Former detainees said the punishment, even for minor infractions, was being made to lie face down on the hot sand for two or three hours, hands bound.
Saad Naif said he saw a prisoner shot dead at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad when he approached the razor wire.