The torture victim

Iraqi tells how he was stripped, beaten and sexually abused by US military

Hayder Sabbar Abd is the man in the hood. He was one of the Iraqi prisoners stripped, humiliated, beaten and abused by American reservists and interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in what is arguably the worst scandal to engulf the United States military since the massacre of Vietnamese villagers at My Lai in 1968.

Having been freed from prison without charge several months ago, the slightly built father of five is now talking about his abuse and, with the help of the photographs that have shocked the world, identifying those who carried it out.

In an extraordinary interview published yesterday, Mr Abd detailed a catalogue of abuse and sexual humiliation inflicted by captors at the sprawling prison complex west of Baghdad, which for decades was notorious as the location of Saddam Hussein's torture and execution rooms.

The irony is not lost on Mr Abd. "Americans did not mistreat me in general," he said. "But these people must be tried. I can't tell you my feelings. The Americans got rid of Saddam Hussein. They told us about democracy and freedom. We are happy about that. Then [the soldiers] did this to the seven of us. I am asking 'Is that democracy, is that freedom?'."

The gathering scandal, which also involves allegations that British troops were involved in abuse of prisoners, is creating severe problems for the Bush administration at a time when it was already struggling with growing difficulties in Iraq and a soaring casualty rate.

It is now known that more than 20 prisoners have died in custody at United States-run military jails in Iraq and Afghanistan ­ two inmates are alleged to have been murdered by Americans. Maj-Gen Geoffrey Miller, the new commander of the jail, apologised yesterday for the torture meted out. "I would like to apologise for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorised acts," he said in Baghdad.

President George Bushgave interviews yesterday to two Arabic-language television channels to try to limit the damage the scandal has done to America's already tattered image in the region. He stopped short of making an apology, but vowed that those responsible would be brought to justice.

One of the Americans accused of conducting abuse at Abu Ghraib is Specialist Charles Graner, an army reservist from Pennsylvania who joined the 372nd Military Police Company in March last year. While in captivity, Mr Abd did not know Mr Graner by his real name. "That is Joiner," he said in the interview published by The New York Times yesterday, pointing to a grinning soldier wearing a black hat and rubber gloves, one thumb raised as he stood behind a pyramid of naked prisoners.

Mr Abd was able to identify himself in another photograph by small scars on his body. In that photograph a smiling woman soldier, identified as Private Lynndie England, who is also giving a thumbs up, points towards Mr Abd's genitals. Pte England is Mr Graner's fiancée and is reportedly pregnant by him.

Speaking through a translator, Mr Abd explained that as an Arab, perhaps the most degrading aspect of the abuse was the sexual humiliation. During one session of abuse, he and six other prisoners who had been involved in a fight were stripped naked, forced to straddle each other's backs and then made to simulate oral sex.

Mr Abd said he recalled having his hood removed and being told by the soldiers' Arabic translator to masturbate as he looked at Ms England. "She was laughing and she put her hands on her breasts," he told the newspaper. "Of course I couldn't do it, so they beat me in the stomach and I fell to the ground. The translator said, 'Do it, do it. It's better than being beaten.' I said 'How can I do it?' So I put my hand on my penis, just pretending."

At this point, one of the other prisoners ­ a friend of Mr Abd's identified as Hussein ­ was pushed towards his genitals while the hood was put back over his own head.

"They made him sit next to me. My penis was very close to his mouth. I did not know it was my friend because of the hood. It was humiliating. We didn't think that we would survive. All of us believed we would be killed and we would not get out alive," said Mr Abd. One of the photographs appears to show this precise moment.

Indeed, Mr Abd recalls that throughout the abuse, photographs were taken.

After the incident in which he was forced to simulate oral sex with his friend, the soldiers began piling him and the others on top of each other to form the pyramids, all the time clicking away with the camera. When they were let down Mr Abd recalls that Mr Graner ­ "Joiner" ­ pulled on the prisoners' hoods as though they were leashes. "He said 'When I whistle, you bark like a dog'," he said.

Specialist Graner has yet to comment publicly on the allegations. His lawyer, Guy Womack, said he was "following orders". He also said the photography was more likely to have been a deliberate part of the orders to intimidate the prisoners.

"I think when you see the photographs, you can tell these were obviously staged. They were part of the psychological manipulation of the prisoners being interrogated," he said. "It was being controlled and devised by the military intelligence community and other governmental agencies, including the CIA."

Mr Abd also described how Specialist Graner, a former prison officer, and two other male soldiers beat the seven hooded prisoners. "They beat our heads on the walls and doors." The former Republican Guard soldier from Nasiriyah said his jaw was broken so badly that even six months later he is unable to eat properly. He estimated that during a two-hour period he received 50 blows.

It was after this session of beating that Mr Abd and the others were told to remove their clothes. "The interpreter told us to strip," he said. "We told him, 'You are Egyptian, you are a Muslim. You know that as Muslims we cannot do that.' When we refused to take off our clothes they beat us and tore our clothes off with a blade."

Records obtained by The Independent reveal that this is not the first time that Specialist Graner has been involved in abuse allegations. His ex-wife obtained three separate "temporary protection of abuse" orders from a judge in their home town in Pennsylvania. The Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, is now under intense pressure and will be forced to try to explain why the abuse was allowed to take place when he appears before senators on Capitol Hill today. And still the allegations grow. Ann Clwyd, Tony Blair's personal envoy to Iraq, has claimed that a 70-year-old woman was ridden like a donkey by US troops, while up to 17 Iraqi families are expected to seek compensation for relatives allegedly killed by British troops in Iraq since the end of the war. The MoD does not accept liability.

Six Iraqis are alleged to have died in British custody; 33 cases of civilian deaths, injuries or ill-treatment have been investigated by the MoD; 12 are continuing, and 21 have been completed. Of the completed cases, 15 were found to have no case to answer, and six are being considered for prosecution.

Hayder Sabbar Abd, meanwhile, is preparing to go home to Nasiriyah, having been assured by US military officials in Baghdad that their investigations will be exhaustive and that those involved in abusing him and his friends will be punished. He said that while he will go home to see his family, his shame will not allow him to stay.

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