For sheer compelling dismay, perhaps no subject matches accounts of the enormities man inflicts on his fellow man.
We know what Hitler did to the Jews, what Lenin and Stalin did in their own "harvest of sorrow." We know the horrors of Cambodia - what the Japanese, North Koreans and North Vietnamese did to American POWs.
We read daily of the slaughter of Israeli innocents by Palestinian suicide bombers - a practice now being extended to American targets in Iraq. With the first of two East Coast sniper trials now under way, we are learning the details of last year's grisly enterprise.
All fill dark pages - dark chapters - in history's grimmest catalogue.
Lately the news columns have carried accounts of torture and mass murder in Iraq under Saddam and in North Korea now.
In Iraq, survivors of Saddam's gulag are telling the tale. Earlier this month, The Washington Post ran an extensive story by Peter Finn about Abu Ghraib - "for thousands of political prisoners crudely executed by hanging in its ghoulish death chamber, ... the final station in an excruciatingly brutal system." An estimated 30,000 were hanged there during the Hussein years.
Finn summarizes accounts by two former prisoners - Abdul Hussein Faraj, arrested in 1988, and Hakem Kharqani, arrested in 1982:
"(Upon reaching the prison's) interrogation room, ... the prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs with cuffs; Faraj's wrist is still cross-hatched with scars from when he was bound. They were then hoisted by a rope attached to a hook in the ceiling so they dangled above the ground, the tendons in their shoulders tearing under the strain. The ball and socket in the shoulders of some prisoners completely rotated. . The prisoners were lashed with cables. Clips were attached to their earlobes, nipples and genitals, and they were administered electric shocks. When they passed out, as they almost invariably did, they were dragged back to the corridor and cuffed again to the radiator. ..."
This torture continued for several days, hours at a time, even after the prisoners broke. Nearly all eventually signed forced confessions put in front of them and stamped them with a single fingerprint, their hands lifted to the paper by the guards because the prisoners no longer had the strength.
"Prisoners who held out longer than expected were subject to further horrors. Faraj saw his mother dragged in front of him. His mother's gown was roughly lifted, exposing her bare legs and underwear as the police said they would rape her. The humiliation, he said, was unbearable. Kharqani and two other inmates were forced to watch three other prisoners killed with acid.
Ross Mackenzie lives with his wife and Labrador retriever in the woods west of Richmond, Virginia. They have two grown sons, both Naval officers.
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