Cheating Death: Escaping the Grip of the Badr Forces Death Squad

Many Iraqis are complaining that their new government is no more democratic or less tyrannical than Saddam Hussein’s regime ever was, and that the only difference in Iraq today is that there is an active insurgency to contend with as well. Numerous Shiites and Sunnis alike are scared to death to leave their homes or allow their children to play in the streets for fear of being caught in a cross fire between insurgents and U.S. forces or victimized by the secretarian strife that is spreading rampantly across the country. A force behind much of this fear is the infamous Badr Forces, also known as Badr Brigade, which was originally an Iranian militia composed of Shiite Muslims that is now finding support from the new Iraqi government. Until recently, U.S. forces turned a blind eye to the militia because they were helping to combat the insurgency and resistance fighters who are predominantly Sunni Muslims, but lately, Badr forces has grown out of control and become a murderous steam roller targeting innocent Iraqis.

The Badr Forces is controlled by Iraq’s new Interior Ministry and receives significant support from the central government – although this support is officially denied. They have various secret prisons and safe houses scattered throughout the country where they torture, interrogate and imprison Sunni Muslims who have ever held positions in Saddam’s government or currently work for the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (I.N.I.S.) – which is headed by a former Iraqi Army General who is also a Sunni Muslim. The I.N.I.S is unofficially controlled by the CIA and is the sole agency in the new Iraqi government composed predominantly of Sunni Muslims. Numerous employees of the I.N.I.S. have been arrested (kidnapped) and murdered by Badr Forces due to the fact that they are simply Sunni Muslims believed to harbor anti-Iranian sentiments or the suspicion that the I.N.I.S. led U.S. forces to the illegal Interior Ministry prison that was raided by Special Forces in the fall of 2005 exposing Badr Forces and the Interior Ministry for the anti-democratic death squad that they really are.

I met with Marwan*, a former employee of the I.N.I.S., who was arrested in March of 2006 by the Interior Ministry and held for 45 days inside a Badr Forces secret prison. Marwan is one of a select few who have lived to tell their story of captivity and torture. He was brutally interrogated and beaten on a daily basis for not cooperating with his captors and giving them the information they wanted. They asked detailed questions regarding his job as a translator at the I.N.I.S. and exactly how closely his agency is connected and in cooperation with the American CIA.

Marwan describes his incarceration with obvious pain and difficulty. “Whenever they interrogated me, a huge guy, whose hands were the size of my head, would slap my across the face if I refused to answer their questions.”

Marwan questioned whether or not his captors were even Iraqis because many spoke Arabic with Iranian accents. He was held in a small cell, sometimes with other prisoners, and supplied with only an old cot and small plastic bucket.

“The bucket was our toilet and it was only cleaned out once a week. We were not allowed to shower or shave and they fed us bread and water.”

Marwan’s captors spent two weeks questioning and slapping him around without any result, so they moved to the next level of torture. They shot him with pellet guns, beat the bottoms of his bear feet with sticks and even used electrical wires to shock him. Marwan suffered in silence and continued to refuse to answer their questions; often because he truly did not know the answers. He tried desperately not to let them break him emotionally and psychologically.

“I never let them see me break, but I cried at night when I was alone in my cell. I could hear the screams of the other men they were torturing, begging for them to kill them. That was the worst,” Marwan explains with a shaky voice.

Marwan was even forced to spend the night with a deceased man when his captors placed the corpse of a fellow inmate in Marwan’s cell. Marwan speculates that the man died while being interrogated.

Officials at the I.N.I.S., both American and Iraqi, knew of Marwan’s unjust incarceration and managed to secure a meeting with Interior Ministry officers to negotiate and solicit for Marwan’s release. Marwan’s attempted liberators, however, were informed that his confinement was lawful and legitimate because Marwan had illegally discharged a firearm in the vicinity of Interior Ministry police officials and then evaded arrest. Marwan’s defense team requested to meet with him and the Interior Ministry was forced to allow the conference.

The day of the meeting, Marwan was removed from his cell and escorted to a facility where he was ordered to shower and shave in preparation for the meeting. Although fluent in English, Marwan was instructed to speak only in Arabic at the meeting and an Interior Ministry translator would interpret for the American representatives. This was to ensure Marwan did not mention the horrors of his captivity.

“They told me if I said anything about the interrogations or torture that they would kill me.”

Both the Iraqi and American officials either knew Marwan personally or had spoken with him briefly, so they were well aware of the fact that Marwan was fluent in English and knew something was very wrong when he only spoke in Arabic and used a translator to converse with the Americans. The situation convinced the CIA that Marwan’s incarceration could be a threat to American security and operations, considering Marwan’s occupation at the Iraqi National Intelligence Service. The I.N.I.S. spent over a month trying to secure Marwan’s release from prison, it took the CIA about three days.

The day of his release, Marwan was summoned to talk with an American man who only identified himself as John; no doubt CIA. “His first words to me were, ‘You are dead’,” Marwan explains. “‘You perished in a car wreck when the convoy you were in was attacked on your way from the prison. Do you understand this?’ He also told me that I could not visit any of my family or friends because they too had been informed of my death. My family even had a funeral for me.”

Marwan was eventually allowed to inform his immediate family – his mother, brother and sister – of the truth, but made sure they knew how imperative it was to keep this information a secret. Marwan relocated his family from Baghdad to the Kurdish territories of northern Iraq. He himself then fled Iraq and sought refuge in neighboring Jordan.

The Sunni Muslims’ biggest fear is that the U.S. forces will pull out of Iraq and leave them to be slaughtered by the Iranian backed Shiite government and militias. A balance must be incorporated within the government if Sunnis and Shiites are to ever unite and coexist peacefully.

*Names have been changed to safeguard identities.

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