BAGHDAD â€” As she tells it, security forces put her in solitary confinement for days on end, whipped her with electric cables and accused her of having sex with a stranger. Humiliated and fearful for her life, the 46-year-old Iraqi housewife went before a TV camera and â€œconfessedâ€ to helping insurgents.
It didn’t matter that her confession was a lie, Khalida Zakiya said.
â€œIf you don’t say what we tell you,â€ she claims one interrogator told her, â€œI will rip your clothes off and leave you naked in front of everyone.â€ Another threatened to sodomize her with a bottle, she said in a phone interview Tuesday from her home in Mosul.
Zakiya appeared on a much-touted Iraqi TV programme that airs confessions of alleged insurgents. The show has won the praise of security officials who credit it with boosting Iraqis’ confidence in security forces, hurting the insurgency.
But the programme has come under criticism from Iraqi lawyers, former detainees and families of suspects who accuse security officials of abusing suspects to extract the confessions, a practice reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s era.
Iraq’s acting human rights minister, Nermine Othman, said she was aware of the allegations and has written to the interior and justice ministries about them.
Laith Kuba, spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, acknowledged there have been â€œcases of detainees subjected to pressure.â€ But Kuba said there also were cases â€œwhere judges confirmed that these were real and complete confessions.â€ The programme, which airs nightly, began in February.
Officials say they don’t know exactly how many alleged confessions have been televised, and some episodes have been repeated. But they believe the number is in the hundreds.
The Iraqi lawyers association, however, has criticised the show and suggested the purported confessions are based more on fear than on fact. In a recent report, the association named 27 people it says are alive despite televised statements by people claiming to have killed them.
The report claims that the show’s interrogators â€œhave twisted the truth and limited their work to words extracted under duress,â€ practices it says are a throwback to the days of Saddam when torture was widely used against opponents of the regime.
Iraqis who watched the show in February might have seen Zakiya, her pale face framed by a black veil, claiming to have given insurgents money and explosives.
She said the elite interior ministry force known as the Wolf Brigade arrested her to try to force her brother to turn himself in. He is now in detention on suspicion of being a high-level insurgent in Mosul, but she claims he is innocent.
After she had spent 11 days in solitary confinement, two men appeared at her cell door, blindfolded her and dragged her away. â€œShut up! We will tear you to pieces and throw you in the river if you utter a word,â€ she claims they said.
She was taken to a room where interrogators confronted her with a man she says she had never met before. The man said he had sex with her and that she gave him money and explosives to attack Americans.
â€œHow can you say such things?â€ she asked him when the officials weren’t looking. He raised his pants and showed her blood running down his legs, she claimed. â€œI knew he said this because he was tortured.â€ She was then blindfolded again, handcuffed and gagged as about six men whipped her with electric cables for 15 minutes, she said.
Two days later she was escorted to a room and handed pieces of paper with a scripted confession, she claimed.
She recalls saying into the TV camera: â€œWhen my brother is not around, I give the people working with him money and dynamite.â€ Freedom came when the brigade left Mosul and transferred her to local authorities who, believing her to be innocent, released her 10 days later, nearly three months after her detention, she said.
Another former detainee, Khalid Ahmed Ibrahim, said he admitted to killing Iraqi security forces because he believed the alternative was to die of torture. Ibrahim’s photo ID appeared on the programme as he was branded a terrorist and a drug dealer, he said.
Ibrahim claimed he was tied to a ceiling fan and whipped on the chest, legs and head. He was released when he proved to his investigators, also from the Wolf Brigade, that he had three relatives who had been members of Iraq’s security forces, two of whom were killed by insurgents.
A spokesman for the Wolf Brigade, Ali Aboul-Hassan, denied the claims of physical abuse, saying they were designed to tarnish the reputation of the security forces, who are frequently targeted by insurgents. He said his force treated Zakiya well and insisted she was guilty.
Aboul-Hassan said investigators do not need to coerce detainees because they usually have enough evidence, such as confiscated CDs showing taped attacks or testimonies of other militants.
Brig. Gen. Wathiq Al Hamdani, deputy to Mosul’s police chief, said the people of Mosul owe much to the Wolf Brigade, which helped restore order in the city, and said individual mistakes shouldn’t be used against the whole force.
â€œThese people [militants] used to rape women, slaughter them and throw them on the street. How should we respond?â€ Hamdani said. â€œIn many instances, force is required.â€ Hamdani added, however, that there were â€œmany misunderstandingsâ€ in Zakiya’s case.
After Zakiya’s release, Mosul’s police chief visited her at home, apologising to her on local television.
â€œShe’s an honourable and pure woman,â€ Zakiya remembers him saying.
Zakiya was troubled the most by the sexual allegations against her. â€œI wish they had executed me and not tarnished my honour. In a way, they have killed me, at least socially, in the eyes of the people.â€