on the world: a view on human rights
This is a guest post by Narmeen Saleh Al Rubaye, who was detained and tortured in Iraq in October 2004 by the US military along with her husband, Shawki Ahmed Omar. She was held for 16 days and tortured to confess falsely to membership of armed militias and that her husband had killed Americans in Iraq. Following release, she left Iraq in 2006 and went to Sweden and later moved to the UK. Her husband remains a prisoner in Iraq almost a decade later.
Narmeen Saleh read her testimony at a parliamentary meeting in London held on Tuesday 11 March 2014, No Woman is Safe, organised by Tadhamun, Iraqi Women’s Solidarity, on Iraq’s female prisoners. This is a slightly edited version of the original statement.
My name is Narmeen Saleh Al-Rubaye. I am a 27-year old Iraqi born Swedish national. I am the mother of 8-year old Zainab, who was born with cerebral palsy as a result of me being kicked in the stomach and tortured with electric shocks when I was pregnant with her.
In June 2004, my husband Shawki Ahmed Omar, an engineer, his 9-year old son from a previous marriage, and I entered Iraq legally from Syria to visit family and friends, and for my husband to establish a branch of an American company his brother owned in the US.
On 29 October 2004, my husband and I were invited to my uncle’s house in Zayouna, Baghdad, for an engagement party. We decided to stay overnight. I was four months’ pregnant with my daughter at that time. At 10pm, American soldiers attacked the house by blowing up the front door, and breaking in from all doors without any warning. They came to the room where I was sitting with my husband, with weapons and dogs. They started to hit my husband before asking any questions. They were hitting him with the butts of their gun, on his head and all over his body. My husband was bleeding profusely from the wounds inflicted by the severe beating. They herded the other people in the house, including my mother and siblings, into other rooms.
I tried to stop the soldiers and pleaded with them to stop beating my husband, but they would not. There were so many US soldiers they filled the room. One of them hit me on the head and knocked me to the ground, so that I lost consciousness for a while. They then let a black dog attack me. I am very afraid of dogs, and I was shaking with fear. They made me squat on the balls of my feet, blindfolded me, and tied my hands behind my back.
All that time they were still beating my husband who never resisted them. The raid lasted four hours. I found out later that all the money and jewellery in the house, including those the women were wearing, were taken that night. All the men in the house were arrested.
They took my husband and me in their vehicles to an unknown location. While I was in their vehicle, they told me that I needed to confess, or they would rape me. Then they put me in a plane and took me to the place of interrogation. I spent sixteen days there. During that time, the interrogations did not stop for one minute. Investigators came in one after the other. They tried every means to make me say what they wanted me to say. They swore and used bad language to humiliate me. At other times, they used beatings and electric shocks. They threw cold water on me, and again threatened to rape me if I didn’t confess. They told me they would send me to Abu Ghraib and do to me what they did to the people there, and that they would take me there and rape me. I did not know where I was. I later found out it was the notorious secret prison Camp Nama. They tortured and beat me a lot, and when they found out that I was pregnant, they told me they would kill the child in my womb. They then concentrated their beating and electric shocks on my abdomen area.
I could hear them torturing my husband as he was in the room next door. They took me to the interrogation room to watch them as they used electric shocks on my husband’s genitals. They put his head in cold water. They used sleep deprivation. They brought me three times in front of my husband and threatened to rape me in front of him if he didn’t confess. They kept telling him they would rape his 9-year old son in front of him. This was a lie, because they did not have Salah, but my husband did not know this.
All of that time, I was kept in a room that was one metre by one metre in size. I was blindfolded, my hands were tied behind my back, and they made me squat, balancing on the balls of my feet for hours at a time.
I did not sleep for 16 days. They kept trying to make me take a pill, but I didn’t know what it was, so I refused. They forced me to take it. After 16 days, they left me on a street. I had no idea where I was.
After I was released, I went to a specialist doctor and told her about the electric shocks and the beatings on my stomach. The doctor was certain that I would not have a normal child. Now my daughter is 8 years old. She is slow in her physical development, movement, walking, and speech, because of the torture she endured in my womb.
After that, I didn’t hear anything about my husband for a few months, until I got a letter through the Red Cross telling me that he was in solitary confinement at Camp Bucca in Basra. Basra is seven hours away from Baghdad. I would make appointments to visit my husband, go all the way there, and they would then refuse to let me see him. This happened several times. My daughter was only a few months old then.
Months would go by, and we would not hear anything about my husband. We later learned that he spent nine continuous months in solitary confinement. During that time, they continued to interrogate my husband, and would lie to him telling him that they would rape me in front of him, trying to get him to make a false confession.
On 24 June 2010, Shawki had a trial. He met his lawyer the same day in court. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years, starting from that day, for illegal entry into Iraq. This is a completely false charge and we have the evidence to disprove it. After an appeal in February 2011, the sentence was reduced to seven years. To date, however, the Iraqi authorities are refusing to release my husband.
My husband was in the last group of prisoners to be handed over to Iraqi custody by the Americans on 15 July 2011. He was with those who were in the airport prison, Camp 7. The guards abused them they are Sunni Muslims and treated them in an inhumane manner. They even tried to poison the prisoners by putting bleach in their food. My husband continues to be tortured and beaten at times.
Before his arrest, my husband was in good health, but now he suffers from high blood pressure, stomach and digestive problems, ulcers and an irritable bowel. He has prostate problems and is refused his medication. Prison food is very poor quality. We have pictures of him that show he continues to suffer torture and maltreatment.
I am here to appeal to you to help me with the immediate release of my innocent husband in accordance with Article 295 of the Iraqi Criminal Procedure Code, as he has already served his sentence.
My appeal is supported by Amnesty International. The Iraqi government should immediately give my husband access to his lawyer, to medical care and all necessary medications. The Iraqi government should immediately take steps to guarantee his safety and welfare.
I still ask: why is my husband still in prison? What have his children done to deserve this? What have I done to deserve this?
Since February 2013, Narmeen Saleh and her daughter Zainab Omar have held regular demonstrations outside the US and Iraqi embassies in London.
In September 2013, her husband Shawki Ahmed Omar “disappeared”; the Red Cross later told his family that he is being held at Abu Ghraib, where he continues to face abuse. The Iraqi authorities have refused to communicate any details of his condition to his family or confirm his location. Narmeen Saleh recently launched the following petition to the Iraqi Embassy in London for information about his situation: http://www.change.org/petitions/iraqi-ambassador-in-the-uk-provide-information-about-the-well-being-of-shawki-ahmad-omar-and-release-him
In November 2013, Amnesty International launched the following urgent action for Shawki Ahmed Omar: http://amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE14/018/2013/en/be34033a-049b-4e82-a281-f94957fa852b/mde140182013en.html
More on Shawki Ahmed Omar’s case: