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Context of 'May 5, 2004: Journalists Tour Abu Ghraib'

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The Department of Defense announces the assignment of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller as commander of the Guantanamo prison. (US Department of Defense 9/20/2002) He will assume his position in November.

Huda al-Azzawi and her siblings are detained at Abu Ghraib. Numbered 156283, she is to spend a total of 197 days in the prison, (Hennion 10/12/2004) of which 156 days will be in solitary confinement at the Hard Site in one of the upstairs cells. (Harding 9/20/2004) She will be interrogated thirty times. (Hennion 10/12/2004) Her cell at the Hard Site measures two square meters, and initially it has no bed and just a bucket for a loo. For the first three weeks she is forbidden to talk. Guards give her a Koran. With a stolen pen, she records her experiences in its margins. In the first weeks at Abu Ghraib, Al-Azzawi witnesses many instances of torture. “The guards used wild dogs. I saw one of the guards allow his dog to bite a 14-year-old boy on the leg. The boy’s name was Adil. Other guards frequently beat the men. I could see the blood running from their noses. They would also take them for compulsory cold showers even though it was January and February. From the very beginning, it was mental and psychological war.” (Harding 9/20/2004) Possibly the worst she sees, are incidents of rape. “I saw men that had water bottles forced up their butt by soldiers.” To the question whether women also ran the risk of rape, she says, “the women were relatively sheltered.” But it may also be more difficult to learn of women being raped. “You won’t find a single one who will testify to having been raped. A rape, for a man, is the supreme humiliation, but for a woman, it is a death sentence by her own family.” (Hennion 10/12/2004)

“There was never enough food and one day,” Huda al-Azzawi, detained at Abu Ghraib (see January 4, 2004), recalls, “I came across an old woman who had collapsed from hunger. The Americans were always eating lots of hot food. I found some in a packet in a bin and gave it to her. They caught me and threw me in a one-meter-square punishment cell. They then poured cold water on me for four hours.” (Harding 9/20/2004)

MPs evacuate all the prisoners from the Hard Site at Abu Ghraib, except Huda al-Azzawi and a small number of other women in the upstairs cells. The guard assigned to her, “Mrs. Palmer,” tells them, according to Al-Azzawi, that during the inspection prisoners must lie quietly on their beds. They are promised with more time outside of their cells if they behave well. (Harding 9/20/2004)

For the first time, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller leads a group of journalists around the Abu Ghraib prison. When prisoner Huda al-Azzawi sees Miller with the group of reporters, she shouts out: “We are not the killers. You are the killers. This is our country. You have invaded it.” (Harding 9/20/2004) Journalists notice five women screaming and waving their arms through the iron bars. One of them, possibly Al-Azzawi, shouts in Arabic: “I’ve been here five months. I don’t belong to the resistance. I have children at home.” (CBS News 5/5/2004) The women had been instructed the day before to keep quiet (see May 4, 2004). Al-Azzawi recalls: “After that they didn’t let me out of my cell for an entire month. A US officer came to me and said: ‘Because of you we have all been punished.’” (Harding 9/20/2004) Elsewhere at Abu Ghraib, prisoners run out shouting as the bus with journalists drives by. A man with one leg waves his prosthetic leg in the air, shouting in Arabic: “Why? Why? Nobody has told me why I am here.” (CBS News 5/5/2004)


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