Monday, May 02, 2005

STUDY: The Way of the Commandos

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In Samarra, the commandos established a detention center at the public library, a hundred yards down the road from the City Hall. The library is a one-story rose-hued building surrounded by a five-foot wall. There is a Koranic inscription over its entrance: ''In the name of Allah the most gracious and merciful, Oh, Lord, please fill me with knowledge.'' These days, the knowledge sought under its roof comes not from hardback books but from blindfolded detainees. In guerrilla wars of recent decades, detention centers have played a notorious role. From Latin America to the Balkans and the Middle East, the worst abuse has taken place away from the eyes of bystanders or journalists. During my first few days in the city, I was told I could not visit the center; I was able only to observe, discreetly, as detainees were led into it at all hours. But one day Jim Steele asked whether I wanted to interview a Saudi youth who had been captured the previous day. I agreed, and he took me to the detention center. We walkedthrough the entrance gates of the center and stood, briefly, outside the main hall. Looking through the doors, I saw about 100 detainees squatting on the floor, hands bound behind their backs; most were blindfolded. To my right, outside the doors, a leather-jacketed security official was slapping and kicking a detainee who was sitting on the ground. We went to a room adjacent to the main hall, and as we walked in, a detainee was led out with fresh blood around his nose. The room had enough space for a couple of desks and chairs; one desk had bloodstains running down its side. The 20-year-old Saudi was led into the room and sat a few feet from me. He said he had been treated well and that a bandage on his head was a result of an injury he suffered in a car accident as he was being chased by Iraqi soldiers.

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