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