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« Robot Video from Iraq | Main | Travels Through the Souk in Suliamaniya, Iraq »

April 05, 2007

A Dormant Hell in Iraq

-Patrick S Lasswell

The Red Building in Suliamaniya, Iraq, is a legacy of Saddam Hussein's brutal state. It is shattered and dormant it is like an extinct volcano in the middle of the city, reminding everyone that hell once ruled here. This is where the Hussein regime took suspect citizens and held them for years to break their families. The people taken here were mostly family members of the Peshmerga fighting in the hills and held hostage to force others to comply, not because they were suspected of anything themselves. Over 7,000 people died in less than 10 years from torture and mistreatment alone here before the beatings stopped for good in 1991. That's about two a day killed here not through official execution, just excessive abuse...and this is only one relatively small city in Iraq. At the end of the Gulf War, the people of Suliamaniya captured the Red Building after three days of fighting, and turned the place into a museum so that the suffering here would be remembered.

Chewed Up Red Building.jpg
The Red Building in 2007. The bullet scars make it look like a well-chewed bone.

Visiting it yesterday, we were surprised to find a large number of buses outside. It turns out that high school students were visiting the place so that they would know what happened here. The prospects for anyone seeking to resume brutal occupation diminish with each group. Many of the young people who passed through yesterday weren't alive yet when this place was shut down. Perhaps why everybody treats me so nicely here is that everybody knows that this place was open until the US destroyed Saddam's army.

High School Students Visit Red Building.jpg

Young Women Visit the Red Building. Now they get to leave unmolested.

In the cells of the prison some excellently rendered statues of the kinds of abuse suffered by people brought here have been added. Some of the most chilling are people just handcuffed and left to wait. Pondering your unknown future while handcuffed to a railing, apart from the rest of the prisoners is one of the most devastating tortures because it forces your mind to work on itself. Your fear exhausts you and your exhaustion makes you stupid and more susceptible to fear. Around and around your brain, the hard floor, exposed isolation, and mind numbing fear cycle you into destruction.

Prisoner on Stairs.jpg
Statue of a Prisoner Handcuffed to the Stairs. Left to wait and imagine, this can break people without much effort.

One place left without any ornamentation or even a placard is the rape room. Off by itself on one end of the prison area is this reinforced concrete structure. One wall is a set of windows, the largest windows in the entire compound, and they are facing the prison block. There is enough room for dozens of guards to watch the proceedings, as well as the husbands or fathers of the victims being abused. When they captured the Red Building in 1991, they found women's underwear inside, but now it is scrupulously clean.

Rape Room at the Red Building.jpg
The Rape Room at the Red Building. The most despicable theatre on Earth.

The cells themselves have some blankets strewn about to indicate conditions. Only a few of the cells have toilets in them. In the other cells are buckets. Although it looks relatively roomy with just one statue inside, fifty or more prisoners would be kept for months in the space of an average bedroom. Accurately depicting the crowding conditions would have taken years to properly accomplish.

Ghost Statues from Red Building Prison.jpg
A Mother and Child in Saddam's Prison. What happens when the free people cross the state.

The Red Building is a dormant hell that reminds us of what happens in the active hell of a fascist state. The solidified lava of an extinct volcano tells us in stone the power of nature. The stone of the Red Building tells us not only of what evil does, but that evil can be overcome. For a decade this place stood as a daily reminder of what could happen to you if crossed the state. Now it stands as a reminder of what happens to the state when it crosses you.

Chewed Up Remnant of Hell.jpg
The Red Building Today. What happens when the state crosses free people.
Please Support Independant Reporting from Iraq

Postscript: Be sure to check out Michael Totten's latest on those keeping hell from here.


When will the statues be installed at Abu Ghraib?

I let this post stand because long before some drunken sexual sociopaths from the US disgraced their uniforms and their country, Saddam was torturing and killing his citizens by the thousands. The idiocy of those convicted felons was nothing compared to the regular planned brutality under the Baath regime. Abu Ghraib needs to be closed as a prison and re-opened as a museum, and the statues should be allocated by acts of inhumanity: 1 for the US and 100,000 for the Baath.

True, Saddam did kill a lot of people at Abu Ghraib. And most of the prisoners who've died there since his overthrow have been killed by "insurgent" mortar attacks.

Sorry, Pat, there is absolutely, unequivocolly zero correspondance between the red building and Abu Ghraib. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. If you think otherwise, your smoking something, or perhaps shooting it, and need to have your head examined.

One day of excess at Abu Grabass is hardly 1/2 million found in mass graves.

It isn't a difference in degree... but a chasm of ignorance.

On this trip it has been my honor to record the stories of several survivors of Abu Ghraib under the Baathist regime. Over the next few months I will be relating them as they are transcribed and in many cases translated. Repeatedly I have heard that prisoners held in security centers like the Red Building were transferred to Abu Ghraib for execution. That is the only relevant correspondence I know of between this place and Abu Ghraib.

I have held in my hand the execution orders of the man in front of me who was sent to Abu Ghraib. I have met men who spent thirteen years in Baathist prisons. I consider myself better informed than most on this subject.

Comments alluding to moral equivelence between Baathists and US military personnel are not welcome and will not be published. I am a serving member of the United States Armed forces and proud to be a non-commissioned officer in the Navy Reserve. I have publicly advocated the trial for capital offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice US military personnel who mistreat prisoners. I bitterly regret that the prosecutors in the most egregious cases have declined to try prisoner abusers under the relevant sections that could result in their execution. I must respect that they did not find it possible to try them under more consequential articles with the available evidence.

Please do not mistake this post for an accusation of the US conduct at Abu Ghraib. I have already occupied the hard line and never moved from it.

If you must troll, troll somewhere else.

Nice work, Pat. Good for you. People need to be reminded of what we removed and how good a task that was to accomplish. In the Left's view, leaving the red building intact was better than having American troops in Iraq. I suspect they might have thought differently if it had been their female relatives in the rape rooms.

Great response to the troll Patrick.

I was not aware of the various alternative articles for charges for prisoner mistreatment but the US prosecutions certainly highlight by contrast that Saddam's cruelty was a basic feature of his reign.

This story just sent shivers up and down my spine. I am glad that our men and women are able to do something to help free the Iraqi's from the hell that they have been living under. I just hope we can stay long enough to give them a fighting chance.

My God! Well, stories like this leave me with tears, but no words. You understand.

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/06/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Fantastic post. This blog is now one of my daily stops.

Oh, does that mean I have to work everyday? Seriously, I've got a couple of months material coming that I just don't have time to post properly. Just today, I took 1,500 pictures of Iraq and the Friday picnics in Kurdistan. There is a lot more to come. -PSL

Forgive the enthusastic commenting, but I have just discovered your excellent site. I'm a journalist too, and stories like the Red Building article ought to be appearing in the NYT and Washington Post. A very evocative piece. After the first Gulf War, the BBC (I think, or maybe Channel 4) did a documentary on one of these notorious buildings, perhaps even this one. One thing that was striking was the revelation that like the Nazis, the Baathists had meticulously documented every single abuse, torture and execution order, indeed the entire Anfal attempted genocide. Huge piles of paper attested to the fact.

Equating Abu Gahrib or Gitmo under the US with this is patently wrong. Flippantly disregarding the similarity, or dismissing what happens in these places even today as "abberations" or "rogue soldiers," when the evidence to the contrary stares you in the face, is wrong too. There was a time when we would cringe to say that what distinguished us from our enemies was scale (be it 1 or 10 or 100 or 1000) rather than kind. Indefinite uncharged detention is wrong. Deliberately creating an atmosphere of fear or suffering in those under your control is wrong. Period.

It didn't occur to me until late last night that none of us consider that the primary existential threat to the Souk in Suliamaniya is that it will be ground to nothing in a bloody sectarian war.

Alternatively, the Suliamaniya Souk is a logical target for Iran's first live fire nuclear weapon test.

I genuinely hope that interesting Souks survive, I do think this one is in greater peril than the others mentioned.

The economics argument and recollections of interesting markets is fun, though.

Patrick - Erbil, Iraq

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