On Beatings (Iraq)

I’ve seen Lt. Hamid deliver ‘morality lessons’ on two different occasions. Both times he received a call on his cell phone while we were out patrolling in his diminutive pick-up (us and his driver in the front, two armed soldiers in the bed) and we drove to some other point of town. The first time it was the sherta (Iraqi Police), the second time it was the Sons of Iraq (Sahawa) that called. Both times, they were waiting with a sheepish detainee when we arrived. In both scenarios the young men (in their teens or early 20s) had been drinking (while not taboo here, drinking doesn’t happen much … I’ve only seen one Muslim man imbibe, though I’m told it’s not that uncommon to have a drink or two at a celebration).

The first detainee had also been caught buggering his buddy (a practice more common in this Arab society than in the West, but still not generally accepted). Both times, the detaining authorities brought the detainees out in the street to be questioned (in front of small crowds) by Lt. Hamid. I suspect that the Sherta and the guys from Sahawa are afraid of recrimination from judges and possibly U.S. authorities—the Army is the most intimidating presence in the area and it harbors no such fears (Lt. Hamid doesn’t anyway). On both occasions, Hamid asked couple of questions of the scared and quiet young men and then start yelling, before winding up—both times—and slapping the shit out of them.

The blows were slaps though (he never made a fist) and I doubt they left any more reminder of his malice than temporarily red skin. The events would have cost any cop his job in the U.S. (and any soldier his rank), but they weren’t any more severe—public humiliation and light corporal punishment, really—then American school kids were subjected to 50 and 60 years ago. The only real scare for me came after the first event, which was the worse of the two. Hamid began slapping the kid with those big haymakers, and pulling him—dragging him—by his shirt to a waiting Humvee. A couple of the kid’s buddies were standing by, begging Hamid to stop. The were screaming for his mercy, then they started crying, which chorused with the plaintive wails of their captive buddy.

Hamid’s soldiers, meanwhile, were keeping the crying buddies and onlookers away and helping drag the detainee to the back of the Humvee. The dark and trash-strewn street was crowded with men, most of whom were simply curious onlookers. There was a nucleus to that group though, and I suspect that they were waiting to deliver their own vigilante justice if Hamid did do it properly (I’m sure his efforts satisfied them). After slapping the kid around a few times and dragging him forcefully enough that his shirt was nearly ripped off, they got him to the back of the Humvee and threw him in the trunk—with some other man they picked up (I still don’t know what that guy was detained for). The picked the kid up—against his will—and manhandled him into the trunk.

The kid panicked (maybe he was claustrophobic) and started wailing horribly, begging for them not to shut him in there (it should be noted that prisoners are commonly carried in the large, accommodating trunks of the Humvees … where a person can sit up comfortably). The kid freaked out and then two of his buddies freaked out and they were screaming and crying at the soldiers—the scene was a fucking mess. It took three soldiers to hold the guy down and then crunch the trunk down on top of him. They had to sit on it to get it latched. Then we loaded up in the vehicles and took off. And that’s the only time I really sweated the possibilities—the fact that they might cross the line, which I’d be forced to report.

Far from hiding anything from me, the Iraqis seemed proud of their minor transgressions. Hamid not only didn’t mind me taking pictures of him roughing up these kids, he wanted to make sure I got good shots. The good news (and the bad news) is that if there were any kind of human rights violations going on, I was going to be the first one to know about it. And that’s why I was nervous on that drive. Was this kid about to get beat really bad? Would they shoot him or do something that egregious? And where the hell were we going? We drove for a few minutes, with these anxieties going through my mind, until we came to a street I recognized—where the sherta station and jail was. We pulled over next to the station and Hamid opened the trunk on the Humvee. Here we go, I thought.

He pulled the detainee out of the trunk. The kid’s hair was disheveled, his shirt was hanging off of him, his sandals were long-since lost and his face was red from the slapping. The soldiers stood around and laughed as the guy wobbled around, scared and confused, and tried to get his bearing. They cut the plastic cuffs off his hands as the continued laughing at him, and I wondered what was to come. Hamid pointed up the street and said something to him in Arabic. The kid looked around, confused, and then started wobbling in the direction Hamid had pointed. It was at that point I realized how drunk the kid was. I asked Hamid what was going on and he laughed and said the kid had to walk back from where we’d picked him up. So they’d roughed him up a little bit and made him walk home.

The second time, the guy (another 20-something) didn’t seem so intoxicated. Hamid smacked the shit out of him a few times and then put him back in the hands of the men who’d detained him—the Sahawa. In hindsight, it’s refreshing to see those two groups (Sahawa and the sherta) actually call a higher authority to handle their corporal punishment. I’m sure the corporal punishment used in interrogations is harsher—I guess it probably crosses over into torture. I don’t support torture, but I don’t lose sleep over it, either. All of the officers I was with have lost friends and relatives over the past five years to the violence that racked this country for all of that time. I’d feel like an idiot trying to explain human rights to one of those men, in the context of the bizarre juncture of time and place in which we found ourselves.

Looking at American public schools, teenage pregnancies, kiddie-hackers and every other phenomena that decries the coming of the apocalypse, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad thing to institute another police training program—this time in reverse. Maybe a couple of thousand Iraqi officers like Lieutenant Hamid should be sent stateside to instruct American officers in delivering morality lessons, on the street and in real time.
By sdliddick at 5:35pm | Add comment

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