By Richard Engel Chief foreign correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/4/2004 7:02:07 PM ET 2004-05-04T23:02:07

For Heidar Abed, one of the men photographed at Abu Ghraib prison, the continuing shame is worse than the beating and humiliation he suffered.

Abed is mentioned in the United States’ military’s internal investigation report. He’s described as a credible witness. He’s also a devout Muslim.

“They told us to take off our clothing," he said. "And we refused, saying it’s against Islam. Then they started punching us.”

It wasn’t altogether new. He’d already been tortured under then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in 1997. For three months he was whipped and hung from a ceiling fan — arrested after his cousin was linked to the assassination attempt of Saddam’s son, Uday.

“But this time what happened wasn’t torture. It was pornography — totally rejected by Islam,” said Abed. “A disgrace. It’s better to die.”

It is worse, Abed says, because he shouldn’t have been in jail. He was stopped in July at a U.S. checkpoint — a passenger in a taxi that turned out to be a stolen car.

He and the driver were both arrested and taken to Abu Ghraib prison, where he was not mistreated or interrogated — apparently forgotten about. “Until that moment the Americans’ behavior was good,” according to Abed.

But in November, Abed got in a fight with a fellow detainee.

“We beat him up badly, hitting him in the head,” he said.

The issue was the attention of a pretty, female, American guard.  Riot police were called in and Abed his friends were taken away.

Four hours of humiliation, he says, was their punishment. “If they killed us it would have been more dignified," he said. "See how they are laughing at us?”

Abed’s jaw was broken that day, and five months later he still has pain when he chews.

Abed says he was happy beyond words when the Americans removed Saddam, and remains grateful today—despite what happened — but that he’s too ashamed now to stay in Iraq and hopes to leave the country.

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