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US torture the innocent while real culprits of Saddam's regime go free

London Guardian

The families of senior Iraqis captured by the US since the fall of Saddam complained last night that their relatives had been wrongly identified as important members of the regime and that some had been tortured while in custody.

In interviews with the Guardian, the families said that their relatives had been held without charge for as long as eight months, and that their only contact with loved ones was through Red Cross letters.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to get a fair trial because the US had refused to allow them to see lawyers, they added.

American troops have so far captured or killed 42 of the original "55 most wanted" members of the ousted Iraqi regime - including Saddam Hussein - who were emblazoned by the US on a pack of playing cards.

Last night, however, relatives claimed that many of the 55 had not committed atrocities during the Saddam years, while others who were, in fact, to blame had escaped American attention.

The prisoners have been classified as "security internees" and are now believed to be in a high-security US military prison at Baghdad international airport.

And the relatives claimed that, although conditions have now improved, US troops tortured several prisoners during the first days of interrogation.

Yesterday Mohammed al-Faysal, whose father Sa'ad al-Faysal was formerly Iraq's ambassador to Moscow, said he was baffled by his detention.

His father - number 55 on the list, and the three of spades - was recalled by Saddam days before the war broke out and made a Ba'ath party commander, following 30 years abroad as a diplomat. US troops arrested him seven months ago, together with his nephew.

"The person who interrogated them was from Lebanon. He asked my cousin what his relationship with my father was. They kept him in detention for two weeks. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and keep in a dark room with no light. It was very hot. They tortured them by making them raise their arms in the air for several hours until they fainted."

He added: "My cousin heard screaming sounds coming from the next room. He didn't know whether this was real or the sound from a tape."

The Pentagon denies using torture on the 5,000 Iraqi prisoners who have been rounded up since the US-led invasion of Iraq, though it does admit using sleep deprivation.

Last night Badie Arief Izzat, a senior Baghdad lawyer who represents 20 of the most wanted 55, claimed that at least one detainee who was subsequently released had been beaten up while in US custody.

"They kept him in a small dark room with his arms in the air. When they were sleeping a US soldier came in and started to kick the prisoners," he said.

Mr Izzat, who has been contacted by Saddam's daughters to discuss their father's defence, said none of the "most wanted" had been allowed access to a lawyer.

He had raised the issue with Paul Bremer, the Bush administration's top official in Iraq, but failed to get a reply.

"This kind of justice isn't very different from Iraqi justice under Saddam," the lawyer complained.

Several letters sent by prisoners had gone missing following a bomb attack on the Red Cross's Baghdad office in October, which forced the organisation to pull out of Iraq, he added.

At least two people were killed and 16 wounded yesterday when Kurdish gunmen opened fire on a demonstration in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.

The demonstrators had been protesting against Kurdish plans to include the ethnically divided city in a new Kurdish federation.
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