Atoning for Abu Ghraib

The lives of two men -- an Iraqi prisoner and an American guard involved in his torture -- were destroyed in the prison. Nine U.S. soldiers have been sentenced in the scandal, but both men say that's not nearly enough.

Published October 1, 2005 8:00AM (EDT)

On the day he lost his innocence before the eyes of the world, Sgt. Javal Davis was sitting in the mess hall at Victory Base in Abu Ghraib prison, eating a plate of rice and tuna fish. Davis ate mechanically, ignoring what the other soldiers were saying, occasionally glancing up at a TV screen.

It was April 28, 2004. Insurgents were still launching the occasional rocket-propelled grenade at their base near Baghdad, and CNN was broadcasting images from home: basketball, the White House, Wall Street. It was a normal day at Victory Base. But then the room suddenly went still.

There was a man on the screen, his arms spread out and attached to electrical wires, his head covered with a sandbag. The headline read: "Scandal at Abu Ghraib." Other images followed, images of prisoners on dog leashes, of piles of naked, intertwining bodies.

Someone turned up the volume, and Javal Davis heard the reporter mention his name. A photo from his high school yearbook flashed across the screen, a picture of a tall black boy with a friendly face and a big smile. Then the secretary of defense appeared, talking about seven degenerate soldiers who had brought shame upon the United States.

Now, 14 months later, Davis sits in his attorney's office in Newark, N.J. He has had a dragon tattooed onto his upper arm and has grown a beard that seems out of place on his youthful face. Davis is unable to look directly at his conversation partner, and he rubs his fingers together when he speaks. The first of the nine Abu Ghraib soldiers America took to court, he pleaded guilty to assault, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators and was sentenced to six months in prison. He was released four months ago.

All nine of the accused have now been sentenced. Charles Graner received 10 years in prison; Ivan Frederick, eight. Lynndie England was sentenced this week to three years in prison by a military court in Fort Hood, Texas.

Davis says that his country punished him for crimes over which he had no control. Instead, he says, the people who were responsible for creating the system of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib should be brought to justice. Davis wants to talk and wants to set things right. He leafs through a white binder on the table in front of him. It contains documents from his life, and occasionally he picks out one of them -- an employee-of-the-month award, college transcripts, a character reference from the mayor of Roselle, N.J., where he is from.

"Am I a bad person?"

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Hajj Ali sits on the sofa in a hotel room in Amman, Jordan. He was released from Abu Ghraib 16 months ago. It's a beautiful summer day, but he keeps the curtains drawn -- girls are lounging in bikinis at the pool below.

Hajj Ali reaches for a pack of cigarettes with his right hand and uses his lips to extract a Marlboro. Then he starts up his laptop and calls up an Iraqi Web site,, that shows the pictures from Abu Ghraib. He scrolls through the site, pausing occasionally: "Here," says Hajj Ali, "this is Abu Hudheifa, the imam, lying in the hallway with his gunshot wounds. Or here, Sabrina Harman, bending over the dead from the shower room."

Hajj Ali speaks slowly and quietly. His voice sounds a little hoarse.

"Graner," he says, "that pig."

He scrolls down to a picture of a man standing on a box wearing nothing but a black blanket, his upper body bent forward slightly, his arms attached to wires and a hood over his head. Hajj Ali swallows and zooms in on one of the hands. "Look," he says, "something isn't right about the hand; it seems injured."

Hajj Ali is convinced that he is the man in the picture.

It's an image one sees all over Iraq today. It hangs on building walls and in mosques. The hooded man is an icon. His image is a symbol of all the abuses America has committed against his people.

Hajj Ali says that it's a good thing these images exist. Without them, the world would never have learned about Abu Ghraib. No one would have believed us, he says. He uses his lips to fish another Marlboro from his pack, lights it, and tells his story.

When the Americans came, he says, he knew they would pick him up sooner or later -- many had already been taken away in the preceding weeks. It was Oct. 14, 2003, a Tuesday, five months after the end of the war, and the smell of winter was already in the air.

On the day of his arrest, Hajj Ali was wearing a green shirt over his dishdasha. He was on his way to his parking lot, where he rented parking spaces to people visiting a mosque on the outskirts of Al Madifai near Baghdad. Hajj Ali heard the sound of heavy engines behind him and he turned around to see a group of Humvees bearing down on him. He was quickly encircled, and 20 soldiers jumped onto the sidewalk, pulled out their weapons, handcuffs and a hood, and pushed him to the ground. "Are you Hajj Ali?" they demanded.

Then everything went black.

Ali al-Shalal Abbas, nicknamed Hajj ever since he completed the pilgrimage to Mecca a few years earlier, lay in the truck bed, trying to remain calm. Don't be afraid, he said to himself, you haven't done anything wrong.

He heard passersby yelling as the truck drove away. He is a respected man in this section of Abu Ghraib, a city of 300,000 not far from Baghdad. Before the Americans came, he was a mukhtar -- a sort of community representative to the authorities. Hajj Ali cannot say how long the trip took. All he sensed was the odor of gasoline, the jolts of bumpy roads and the pain in his left hand, which he had injured at a wedding when he shot into the air with his father's shotgun. The magazine exploded, severing his tendons and slicing off two fingertips; the wound was still fresh.

At some point he was pushed out of the truck and chained to a fence, and he heard Iraqis in the dark. Hajj Ali asked: "Where are we?"

"I think this is Abu Ghraib," another man whispered.

Hajj Ali stands in the middle of a brightly lit room on the day after his arrival. The room stinks of urine. Three men sit behind a table and the oldest asks the questions. The conversation, as Hajj Ali recalls it, goes something like this:

"So you are a terrorist."

"What makes you think that?"

"Where is Saddam Hussein?"

"I don't know."

"Osama bin Laden?"

"In Afghanistan."

"How do you know that? Did you meet him?"

"I saw it on the news."

"We know that you are a well-known man in your town. You know a lot of people. You know who the insurgents are. Tell us what they're planning." Hajj Ali remains silent. "Or do you want us to let your hand rot off?"

Hajj Ali slowly realizes that he could be kept here for a long time, no matter what he says. He stays at Camp Vigilant for 10 days. Soon there is frost. He thinks of his pregnant wife at home. Every day a guard comes to the tent to ask whether prisoner number 151716 is ready to talk.

Hajj Ali says nothing.

On the morning of the 10th day, the guards pick him up, place a hood over his head, and drive him around the grounds for a few minutes. Then he is taken into a building where it is cool and damp, where the sounds of steps echo through hallways. They order him to remove his clothes, and Hajj Ali strips down to his underwear.

"Keep going! The underwear too!"

They tear off his underwear. Hajj Ali trembles with fear. His hands and feet are bound, and six or seven soldiers push him around. Then one of them tells him to walk up the stairs. Hajj Ali lets himself drop to the floor, crawling and squirming, his wounded hand throbbing with pain. An interpreter tells him to bark like a dog, and Hajj Ali complies.




He keeps collapsing, barely able to move forward. After a few steps, they start whipping and kicking him, yelling, "Faster!"

Then someone tears off his hood, grabs his hair, and drags him up the stairs. Hajj Ali looks up and sees a man holding a megaphone on the landing. He looks athletic and aggressive, and he barks at Hajj Ali: "Up, man! Up! Come on!"

The name tag on the man's chest reads: Davis, MP.

At the top of the stairs, they put the hood back on his head, place him against a grating, and tie his hands together high above his head, forcing him to stand on tiptoe. The guard with the megaphone, probably Davis, returns periodically and whispers in his ear: "What kind of weapon did you use to shoot at us? A Kalashnikov? An AK-47?"

Hajj Ali stands at the grate for one day and one night. Whenever he loses consciousness and his ankles collapse, they douse him with cold water to wake him up again.

At some point he asks the black man with the megaphone whether he can go to the bathroom, but the guard refuses. Later he urinates on his own feet.

"So what's the deal?" asks a soft voice a short time later, "are you ready to talk?"

"I would like to," he answers, "but I don't know any terrorists. I don't know who is planning what, do you understand? And it's against my religion to denounce innocent people."

Hajj Ali is kept at the grate a while longer. He has stopped thinking, stopped feeling. Finally the guards take him to a cell. They tell him that he has suffered enough, that he needs to relax and listen to music. They tie him to the ground, place a megaphone next to his ear and keep playing the same song, "Rivers of Babylon," 10 times, 20 times, throughout the night. The music is so loud that Hajj Ali believes his skull will burst open.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

For the past week, Davis has been working his shift in cellblock 1 A/B, the high-security wing at Abu Ghraib. The cells look like cages, and the prisoners cowering in them look like frightened animals. They are suspected terrorists and members of the insurgency, imams, high-ranking politicians and generals, and Davis even recognizes a few faces from the deck of cards they handed out to the Army.

Some prisoners are naked and wear sandbags over their heads. Others are chained in positions that force them to stand for hours on end, or they squat, naked, penned into dark, toilet-less dungeons. The stench in the wing is worse than at a sewage-treatment plant.

"What the hell is going on here?" Davis asked his major, but the officer merely shrugs his shoulders and tells him he should ask the people from military intelligence.

"You're a big boy. Scare them, be mean," says the Italian from intelligence, the commanding officer in the high-security wing. "Make sure they have a rough night, soften them up. Yell in their ears with your megaphone."

"Why, what's the point of all this?"

"We need information. They're killing our people out there every day. Believe me, they'd cut off your head if they could."

Davis feels out of his element. He is a military police officer, not a prison guard. But if there is one thing he has learned in his seven years in the military, it is that a command is a command. Davis' shift begins at 4 a.m. He counts the prisoners three times, and then he takes a look at the logbook at the end of the corridor. Cell 25: no food. Cell 30: no sleep. Cell 40: four hours of radio.

Javal Davis, who wanted to serve his country, who worships Bill Clinton, and who gave speeches in high school against the stigmatization of blacks, now patrols the halls with a megaphone, yelling "Wake up!" He forces prisoners to strip naked, pours ice cold water over their bodies, and takes them to a shower room they use for interrogations.

Maybe this is a test, Davis thinks to himself. Maybe this is what God wants him to do: to obey every command and never think twice.

A few prisoners lie in their cells, almost lifeless, traumatized, in despair. Others throw garbage, leftover food and feces at Davis. "I hate America!" they yell into the corridor. "Asshole," another yells repeatedly, "Saddam will fuck you!"

Davis knows that many of the prisoners have studied in the United States and that they are smart -- better educated than most of the guards. Because their Arab names are too complicated, the guards give them nicknames: Clawman, the fat one with the injured hand; Shitboy, whom Davis likes because he mimics everything he says; Froggy, who is later renamed Shooter when he tries to shoot a guard; and Thumbie, a loyal Saddam supporter, polite and cooperative.

"I just fight against you because you are fighting against us," says Thumbie. "I am defending our country, our oil, our honor. What would you do in my place?"

Hajj Ali squats in cage 49, diagonally across the hallway from the shower room at the end of the corridor. He hasn't eaten in days, he has been naked for days and he has pulled a sock in lieu of a bandage over his throbbing left hand.

A Syrian imam comes to his cell every day to collect the packaging material from the lunch packets. Sometimes he pulls out pills from his sleeve, pills he has found in the garbage, and Hajj Ali swallows them, swallows every pill he can get, but nothing can lessen the pain.

When his ancestors settled there, Abu Ghraib was little more than a pit stop on the route between Baghdad and Amman. The soil was fertile and his family lived from the fields, farming a 25-donum (about 15-acre) plot, tending dense gardens of date palms. Hajj Ali grew up as the youngest of eight children.

After finishing school, he ran a business collecting local farmers' fruit, vegetables and grain and selling it in the market in Baghdad. Business was good until the first Gulf War came along in 1991, followed by the embargo. When the profits dried up as a result, Hajj Ali sought comfort in the mosque, where he studied Islamic law. When his father died, tribal leaders asked him to take over his father's position as their local leader. From then on, people would come to him, complaining that their food rations weren't enough, or that they didn't have enough money for medical treatment. Hajj Ali comforted these people and did what he could to intercede on their behalf with the authorities and with doctors.

One day he came across an unused, rocky and uneven field near the river. He leveled the surface, built two goals and planted grass. Every day he would water the field and draw boundary lines with chalk. After a few weeks, he divided his neighborhood into four districts, and by the summer before the war, the Al Madifai soccer league began playing its first games. Hajj Ali stood on the sidelines and wept for joy.

"Clawman, what kind of weapon did you use to shoot at us? A Kalashnikov? An RPG-7?"

"Clawman, have you thought about it? Are you ready to talk to us now?"

The guards repeatedly drag him from his cell, lock him up in the shower room, and force him to squat there for hours on end. The days are filled with interrogations that lead nowhere, and in the end they always pour sewage over Hajj Ali. They call the procedure a "shower."

The worst nights of all are when Spc. Charles Graner is on duty. He whistles when he walks into the wing, and sometimes he pretends to be a waiter, a white cloth draped over his arm as he carries a tray of hot macaroni. Graner serves the prisoners the meal, and whenever one of them rejects the food, either because he is fasting or because he believes the food could be poisoned, Graner laughs loudly and takes a picture.

At first, Hajj Ali didn't know that cellphones could be used to take pictures. Strange, he thought, why do they hold their phones with their arms stretched out like that? One evening, when the pain begins to move up into his arm, he stops Graner while the guard is making his rounds. He asks a cellmate who speaks a little English to ask Graner for some medicine to reduce the pain. Graner says that he can have it.

"Put your hand through the bars," Graner says. Hajj Ali extends his hand and Graner tears off the blood-soaked sock. Bits of Ali's flesh adhere to the material. Graner smiles, and says, "Doesn't that take away the pain, Clawman?"

- - - - - - - - - - - -

After a visit by Geoffrey Miller, the commander in chief at Guantánamo Bay, more and more investigators, analysts and interpreters have been coming in and out of Abu Ghraib. They bring along their dogs, and these people are clearly the ones in charge now. They wear no nametags, and they address each other with code names, like DJ, John Israel, James Bond. They begin to apply pressure. It's late October 2003, Saddam is still at large, and Americans outside are dying every day.

Night after night, Davis is ordered to bring prisoners into the shower room for interrogation. The intelligence officers inside then lock the door, and Davis, standing outside, hears screams and the occasional prayer. The prisoners seem grateful when he brings them back to their cells. Davis works 14 hours a day, from 4 a.m. until 6 p.m., seven days a week. Occasionally a glimpse from home flickers across a TV screen, almost like a pathetic joke. When he watches "Terminator 3" or a New York Mets game, he thinks about his son, Zaniel; his daughter, Latrice; and his wife, Zeenethia.

Javal and Zeenethia were both 19 when they moved to Maryland, where they went to college and joined the Reserves. It sounded easy enough: just 16 weeks of basic training, the occasional troop exercise, the occasional deployment.

He was in Bosnia for nine months, was sent home for all of six months, and was then deployed to Iraq. His absence has put a strain on their marriage. Zaniel is doing well, Zeenethia tells him on the phone, he can already use the toilet by himself. She talks about the new car, about the dog.

"Don't worry," Javal lies, "I'm OK."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

"Miss, hey Miss."

Hajj Ali hears a whispering in the corridor and quiet steps. The prisoners always whisper when Sabrina Harman comes walking through their hallway, alone, late at night. Harman, in her mid-20s, is the only one who gives Hajj Ali the feeling that she regrets what is happening here. Once, in his first few days in the prison, as he was kneeling in prayer on the floor of his cell, she stood in front of the bars, waited until he was finished, and then asked, with a gentle smile, whether everything was OK.

"Abu Omar," Hajj Ali whispers to the man in the next cell, the man who speaks a bit of English, "tell her I want to talk to her."

Harman walks up to the bars, silently looks at Hajj Ali -- looks him in the eyes -- and scrutinizes his body.

"Miss, why do we have to be naked all the time?"

"All I can say is that we have our orders. The people up there tell us who gets a blanket and who doesn't," she replies.

They have recently begun stacking prisoners in piles -- heaps of naked, hooded men -- and they keep dragging prisoners through the corridors on dog leashes. Hajj Ali stands at the bars of his cells, and the things he sees are almost more unbearable than what they do to him.

On one occasion, a boy stands in the hallway in front of his cell, begging the guards to take him to the toilet. But they blindfold him and lead him around, fetch his father, and force him to lie down at his son's feet. Then they tell the boy: OK, now you're standing in front of the urinal.

When this war -- a war he didn't want -- began bearing down on his district, Hajj Ali made a decision. Al Madifai was practically abandoned in March 2003 with the young men fighting at the front, and the elderly, women and children already having fled to the countryside. But Hajj Ali couldn't just leave; after all, he was mukhtar. He called together the men who had stayed behind and formed a militia of 200 men -- farmers, engineers, tribal leaders, disabled veterans -- some of whom brought along their old swords and guns.

They built barricades on the town's access roads, stationed guards at the milk factory and behind the levees along the river -- and waited.

Then 28 cruise missiles struck the town, a swarm of Apache helicopters appeared out of nowhere, and tanks began approaching in the distance. The militia was quickly disbanded. It was early April 2003, and the war was over in Al Madifai. It had lasted less than an hour.

The mood in Al Madifai gradually shifted. The Americans introduced a system of rewards for information about terrorists, and the system flourished. No one was safe anymore in Al Madifai. Anyone could be arrested at any time, and sooner or later, Hajj Ali was certain, he'd be picked up.

Hajj Ali crouches in a corner of his cell. A few days ago they gave him a blanket, a piece of black material with fringes, which he has tied together to make into a cloak. He lies on it at night, but he has trouble sleeping. The floor is hard and damp, and the cell is never completely dark.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

The high-security wing is overcrowded. More and more insurgents are brought in every day, and almost all of them are kept naked. "Prepare them for hell on earth," the people from military intelligence tell Davis. "They don't deserve anything better."

Davis sees the cracked tabletops after the interrogations, sees them bringing in dogs without muzzles. When he takes the prisoners back to their cells, they are often bleeding and semiconscious. One day there is a corpse in the shower room.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Nov. 8, 2003, Davis hears gunfire and people yelling outside. He is told that there has been an uprising. Prisoners in Camp Ganci smuggled in weapons and are shooting at the guards, pulling out tent poles, and throwing rocks and debris. When a female soldier is hit in the face, the rest of the soldiers go ballistic. They are 70 against hundreds, so they simply begin firing into the crowd.

Davis is furious by the time they bring the seven leaders of the uprising into section 1 A/B around midnight. Their heads are covered with sandbags and their hands are tied. The soldiers drag the Iraqis into the corridor and surround them. Graner is part of the group, and so is Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick. Graner starts assaulting the prisoners. He throws them against a wall until they collapse on the floor, and when they've stopped moving, he stacks them on top of each other like dead animals. Davis is beside himself with rage. He goes to the end of the corridor, gets a running start, and slams his 220 pounds into the heap of bodies. He hears them groan and cry out, hears them crying under their hoods. Then he takes another running start, jumps on the pile, runs again, jumps on the pile again. Lynndie England, another M.P. who has just joined the group, climbs onto the pile and they begin jumping up and down it, as if it were a compost heap, not hands and feet and torsos.

Hajj Ali stands in his cell and watches as a sergeant appears and yells: "Stop this immediately!" He sees Davis leave, sees the others untie the prisoners and order them to strip naked, sees the guards arrange the prisoners in pyramids, give the thumbs-up sign, laugh and pose for photos.

Hajj Ali watches as Ivan Frederick traces the shape of a cross on a prisoner's chest with his finger and then beats him unconscious, watches as Frederick pulls off another man's hood and shows him how to masturbate, then tells the man to masturbate and forces another prisoner to kneel in front of him and open his mouth. "Look," says Frederick, "look at what these animals do when you let them out of your sight."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

They open the cell door. "Hajj, your number!"

"One five one seven one six."

"OK. Investigation."

"Clawman, you've been trying our patience for weeks," says a voice. "We've had enough of this. If you don't give us some names, you'll get to know our other methods."

"Sir, I cannot name any names."

One of the guards pulls off his hood and points to a bunch of wires dangling from the ceiling, red wires and blue wires, with copper rings attached to the ends. Then he drags him a few steps closer to the wall, where there is a box on a floor, the kind of cardboard box filled with food that Hajj Ali has sometimes been forced to carry. Finally, the guard removes his handcuffs and places the copper rings around his fingers. Then he puts the hood back on, and someone says: "You have to get up on the box now. Stay up there. If you fall off, there will be electricity."

Hajj Ali climbs onto the box, cautiously feeling his way. Once he is standing, he lifts his arms to keep his balance, begins swinging his arms, starts to sway, and feels the box giving way beneath his heavy body. There is silence in the room.

"Clawman, if you want to talk, then talk now."

He stands there for one minute, two minutes, three minutes. He says nothing, and then he sees cameras flashing through the hood. Suddenly he feels the current shooting through his veins, and it's as if his eyes were being torn from their sockets. His teeth grind together, everything shakes and trembles, and he falls onto his left hand, the injured one.

Hajj Ali lies on the floor, almost unconscious, and he hears people laughing. Then someone takes his pulse and says: "He's OK. Continue."

When he stands up on the box again, Hajj Ali wishes, for the first time in his life, that he were dead. He prays to Allah for redemption, begs Allah to make them turn up the electricity, turn it up to give him one last, effective jolt of electricity.

This time he falls on his right side.

Hajj Ali sits on a truck bed, a hood covering his head, surrounded by other prisoners. It's late December, three weeks after the electroshocks, and he has been in Abu Ghraib prison for two and a half months.

They repeated the procedure two more times, but it was unsuccessful. Hajj Ali said nothing, and at some point they must have realized that he would keep on saying nothing, no matter what they did to him. After a few days, Sgt. Hydrue S. Joyner came to his cell door, carrying a notebook and accompanied by an investigator. They stood there a while and offered him a cigarette. Then Abu Omar, Hajj Ali's ad hoc interpreter, heard the investigator say that 151716 is an innocent man, telling Joyner to make a note of that.

A little later they put Hajj Ali in orange overalls and took him back to the camp. He vomited when he saw the sun.

The truck speeds up. They must be out of the camp by now, he thinks. Forty people are packed tightly on the truck bed and he feels the man next to him touch his hand.

"Hey," the man whispers, "are you Hajj Ali?" "Yes, I am. Where are they taking us?" "Home," says the stranger. "I heard they are taking us home."

- - - - - - - - - - - -

In late April 2004, shortly after Javal Davis saw his photo on the TV news, he was arrested by the military police. When he returned home a short time later, the newspapers were calling him a war criminal. A psychologist diagnosed him as traumatized. Davis hardly ate anymore, spent hours walking, mile after mile, waiting for his trial: The United States of America vs. Javal Davis, the most powerful nation on earth against a boy from New Jersey.

At his trial in February 2005, he testified, in tears, that it was an alien world, that it had made him crazy. He said that when he jumped on that pile of bodies, he had no intention of injuring anyone, only of scaring them.

"I'm embarrassed to be sitting here," he said, his voice trembling. "I don't know what I was thinking. Believe me, I wasn't myself when I did that."

The defense had called 20 witnesses in Davis' trial before a military tribunal in Fort Hood, Texas.

"My son," said the mother, "is a good man. I am very proud of him."

"He was humble, quiet and always helpful," said Chris Satterfield, Davis' former football coach. "I don't believe that Javal is guilty. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"There was no supervision, no training and no clear command structure," explained Maj. David DiNenna. "There was chaos in the camp, a state of lawlessness."

"Javal Davis' behavior was completely normal under these circumstances," said Dr. Ervin Staub, a psychologist from the University of Massachusetts. "He just played along with the rest."

"He was popular," former prisoner Omar Jalal said in a videotaped testimony. "He played sports with us and made us laugh."

"He is a father and a man who stood up and took responsibility," his attorney, Paul Bergrin, said in his summation. "We ask for justice. When someone has to live like an animal, something snaps inside," he continued. "Weigh that 10-second regression against the man's entire life -- seven years of which were spent serving honorably."

The judges sentenced Davis to six months in a military prison for inflicting bodily injury and gave him a dishonorable discharge from the army -- a mild sentence. But now Davis' attorney wants to file an appeal against the military court's ruling. He wants Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to testify in court. He says he wants justice for Javal Davis. Davis feels betrayed by the Army, the organization that he loved and that was his life. Now, he says, his life is destroyed.

He has moved back to Roselle to take care of his grandfather, who has cancer, but when they go for walks now, the two men say nothing. He and his wife, Zeenethia, are separated. Davis has trouble sleeping, and when he does sleep, he has nightmares of being shot at, of lying in his cell at Abu Ghraib, of smelling the feces and the urine and hearing the sounds of rocket-propelled grenades raining down on the camp.

He is silent, locked in his memories. Someday, says Javal Davis, he will write a book about it. He will write about what really happened in Iraq. And he will ask the Iraqis for their forgiveness.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Shortly after his release from Abu Ghraib prison, Hajj Ali was treated by a psychologist, Dr. Mohammed al-Karchi, who gave him sedatives to sleep and other drugs to stimulate his appetite.

In the past, he says, he believed that forgiveness is always better than revenge, but now he is filled with a hatred that he cannot shake off. The worst thing about it, says Hajj Ali, is that he hates himself for hating others.

"How can it be," he asks, "that the victims are not being called as witnesses, that no one wants to hear their version of the story? How can it be that someone like Davis gets only half a year in prison?"

"Davis and the others," he says, "killed our souls."

In May 2004, Hajj Ali decided to take advantage of his popularity. He founded an organization and called it the Association of the Victims of American Occupation Prisons.

The organization quickly mushroomed into 40,000 members -- victims of torture, innocent suspects who were quickly released -- and its headquarters are at Hajj Ali's guesthouse.

There they collect the victims' horrible stories and assemble them into dossiers intended to provide an overview of the situation in the prisons. They take the information to newspapers, and they have exhibited the photos in Baghdad. But they are not interested in enlightenment. They want justice.

The organization has brought a lawsuit in an American civil court against the private contracting firms that were responsible for the interrogations at Abu Ghraib, companies like Titan and CACI, which it alleges played a key role in the torture. Hajj Ali hopes that they will be compensated, that the victims will receive monetary awards, something at least to make up for some of their suffering. This is his way of dealing with these things; he feels the need to do something to make peace with his memories.

He recently received a letter, a letter from the occupiers, asking him to resume his old job as community representative. They promised him a car and a real salary, but Hajj Ali turned down their offer. It is too early for forgiveness.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

This article has been provided by Der Spiegel through a special arrangement with Salon. For more from Europe's most-read newsmagazine, visit Spiegel Online at or subscribe to the daily newsletter.

By Marian Blasberg

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Abu Ghraib Iraq Middle East