A Tale of Resistance under Saddam: Punished and Shamed for Following His Conscience, a Young Iraqi Finds Hope in Human Rights Group

Article excerpt

Sa'ad Kadhin Al Saady sits at a beat-up desk on a broken-down chair in the breezy office of the National Association for the Defence of Human Rights. In one hand he has a cigarette, in the other a pen that he twirls in his fingers.

Sa'ad has had a difficult life. You can see it in the creases of his face, the set of his jaw.

Like all able-bodied, working-class young men, Sa'ad was forced into the Iraqi military and, like most soldiers, served reluctantly. On May 13, 1994, he made a rare and momentous decision. At the age of 19, on his own, without the support of anyone, Sa'ad refused a direct order to join an army patrol "to fight the people of Kurdistan."

"When they asked me why, I told them those people are Iraqi people, and they are Muslims. If I kill them, God will be angry with me. I do not want to kill anyone. Because of this, I was accused of being a traitor and sent to jail."

Sa'ad turns his head to show me his right ear. The round of his ear is cut flat on a downward angle, as if it had been sliced with pruning shears. It is a punishment inflicted by Saddam Hussein's security forces on more than 3,600 war resisters. For some their right ear was clipped, for others their left. Some had their whole ear removed. Some lost the end of their nose or a piece of their tongue or had a minus sign tattooed on their forehead. "It was just whatever they decided to do," Sa'ad says.

Sa'ad is the president of the Committee for the People Who Refused Wars. "Only the National Association for the Defence of Human Rights has this committee," Sa'ad says. The association is one of countless Iraqi human rights organizations that sprang up after the demise of the Saddam regime. In concert with other groups, they occupied a looted government building and re-christened it the Peace, Solidarity and Friendship Building.

It has no doors, no electricity, no running water and only a handful of windows. Voices echo harshly in the building's office. It is outfitted with salvaged office furniture; grubby plastic lawn chairs are passed from room to room as needed. Volunteer lawyers and activists work from scrap paper.

The Committee for the People Who Refused Wars wants three things: financial compensation, restorative surgical operations and, most of all, the repeal of Resolution 115, an astonishingly punitive decree issued by Saddam Hussein on Aug. 25, 1994. (Sa'ad knows the exact date.) Still on the books, Resolution 115 effectively stripped war resisters of their citizenship. They were shut out of the educational system, forbidden government employment and prohibited from buying property or owning a car. In an Iraq starved by sanctions, the families of resisters had their food ration cards pulled, and many were forced from their homes to live in tents on the edge of the desert.

"Under the old regime, in all of our official identification papers it said, 'He has his ear cut off according to Resolution 115.' We are considered as people from the third class. We were labeled and allowed to be punished at any time."

I have to coax Sa'ad to tell his own story. He prefers to talk about the situation of all 3,600 men. "They sent me to the prison of the 15th Division to investigate me. They tortured me too much. They handcuffed me and beat me with sticks."

He points to a three-inch scar on his right jawbone. "This is where they beat me with the butt of a pistol." He stands and pulls up his shirt to show me dozens of long white scars on his back. "They gave us lashes with a cable until they cut the meat." Sa'ad holds out his hands. His fingertips are swollen, bulbous, his fingernails unnaturally curved. "They poured water on me and then put these electrical things on my fingers. This is what it did.

"They hoisted us into the air on a hook for one or two hours with our hands tied behind our backs. They call it 'the scorpion.'

"This treatment lasted for three months. …