Salah Hassan looks sad and very tired. The Al Jazeera cameraman, a 33-year-old father of two, is recounting his tale of incarceration in a soft and matter-of-fact tone. Sipping tea in the lobby of the hotel that serves as Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau, he explains how on November 3 of last year he raced to the site of a roadside bomb attack on a US military convoy in Dialah, near the eastern Iraqi city of Baquba. While he was interviewing people at the scene, US troops who had previously taken photographs of Hassan at other events arrested him, took him to a police station, interrogated him and repeatedly accused the cameraman of knowing in advance about the bomb attack and of lying in wait to get footage. “I told them to review my tapes, that it was clear I had arrived thirty or forty minutes after the blast. They told me I was a liar,” says Hassan.
From Baquba, Hassan says he was taken to the military base at Baghdad International Airport, held in a bathroom for two days, then flown hooded and bound to Tikrit. After two more days in another bathroom, he was loaded onto a five-truck convoy of detainees and shipped south to Abu Ghraib, a Saddam-built prison that now serves as the American military’s main detention center and holds about 13,000 captives.
Once inside the sprawling prison, Hassan says, he was greeted by US soldiers who sang “Happy Birthday” to him through his tight plastic hood, stripped him naked and addressed him only as “Al Jazeera,” “boy” or “bitch.” He was forced to stand hooded, bound and naked for eleven hours in the bitter autumn night air; when he fell, soldiers kicked his legs to get him up again. In the morning, Hassan says, he was made to wear a dirty red jumpsuit that was covered with someone else’s fresh vomit and interrogated by two Americans in civilian clothes. They made the usual accusations that Hassan and Al Jazeera were in cahoots with “terrorists…”