Moroccan POWs Ask Help Punishing Captors
Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Lakbir Khamrich and Abdelaziz El Hamzaoui say they have come to Washington to give thanks and to demand justice.
The two men were part of a contingent of 404 Moroccan soldiers freed August 18 after two decades in a prisoner-of-war camp in the Algerian town of Tindouf, a camp run by the rebel Polisario Front. Morocco has been fighting a hot-and-cold civil war with the Algerian-backed Polisario since the mid-1970s for control of the country's vast Western Sahara region.
"We would not be free today without the help of the United States. We know that," said Mr. Khamrich, who was a 20-year-old corporal when captured in a Polisario raid in 1987. "But we still want U.S. help to see that our torturers are brought to justice."
In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Hamzaoui described brutal conditions in the camp, a life of meager rations, searing heat and bitter cold, tiny cells and forced construction labor. International humanitarian aid meant for the prisoners was routinely diverted and sold by Polisario officials, he claimed, and POWs were beaten with electric cables if they tried to escape or complained to visiting Red Cross officials and journalists.
"There is a suffering I carry within me that no amount of time can heal," he said, speaking through a translator in a mixture of Arabic and French.
Mr. Hamzaoui said the shock of freedom - the noise of cars, the bright lights, the crush of people - has been so intense that, six weeks after his release, he still prefers sleeping through the day and going out only late at night.
The two men, who were among the world's longest-held POWs at the time of their release, met with National Security Council officials Wednesday to describe their treatment, presenting a letter to President Bush demanding an international court prosecute their jailers. …