Hassan Fattah / The Age – 2006-03-12 09:31:59
Unmasked: The Face of Prisoner 151716,
the Man under the Hood
Hassan Fattah / The Age (Australia)
AMMAN, Jordan (March 12, 2006) — Ali Shalal Oaissi’s wounds are still raw. There is the mangled hand, an old injury that became infected by the shackles chafing his skin. There is the slight limp, made worse by days tied in uncomfortable positions.
And most of all, there are the nightmares of his nearly six-month ordeal at Abu Ghraib Prison, west of Baghdad, in 2003 and 2004.
Mr Qaissi, 43, was prisoner 151716 of cellblock 1A. The picture of him standing hooded atop a cardboard box, attached to electrical wires with his arms stretched wide in an eerily prophetic pose, became the indelible symbol of the torture at Abu Ghraib. The US military announced last week it would abandon the prison and turn it over to the Iraqi Government.
“I never wanted to be famous, especially not in this way,” he said, as he sat in an office in Amman. That said, he is now a prisoner advocate who clearly understands the power of the image: it appears on his business card.
Researchers with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say they have interviewed Mr Qaissi and, with lawyers suing military contractors in a class-action suit over the abuse, believe that he is the man in the photograph.
Under the government of Saddam Hussein, Mr Qaissi was a mukhtar, in effect a neighbourhood mayor. After the fall of the Government, he managed a car park belonging to a mosque in Baghdad.
He was arrested in October 2003, he said, because he loudly complained to the military, human rights organisations and the media about soldiers dumping garbage on a local soccer field.
He said it soon became evident that the goal was to coax him to divulge names of people who might be connected to attacks on US forces.
Mr Qaissi is today an activist for prisoners’ rights in Iraq. Shortly after being released from Abu Ghraib in 2004, he started the Association of Victims of American Occupation Prisons with several other men immortalised in the Abu Ghraib pictures.
Mr Qaissi said he harboured no animosity towards America or Americans. “I forgive the people who did these things to us,” he said. “But I want their help in preventing these sorts of atrocities from continuing.”
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