Achmed – Damascus, Friday 15th July 2005
He was huddled over a makeshift stove sipping mint tea in the back of a store in eastern Damascus – a part of the city out-of-bounds for Europeans wanting to stay healthy. His shirt collar was turned-up and his dusty khaki outfit bore ochre patches from the walk down the sand blasted alleys. The blond hair, not covered by his cap, was bleached white from the sun, face and neck toned vermilion. At this moment anger mixed with sadness entangled his thoughts.
Despite the remaining heat on his sunburnt parts, he shivered as he tried to grasp the meaning of what Achmed, the storekeeper’s nephew, had just related to him a few moments ago. He couldn’t get his thoughts straight quick enough, as the multitude of possibilities crossed his mind. Benumbed, he let them unfold.
His eyes moved away from Achmed and stared at a big blister on the whitewashed wall for a while, gradually becoming aware of the situation at hand. The blister started to grow, so he shut his eyes briefly, took a deep breath and let out a long soft sigh. He straightened his back a bit, shifting his hocking position and letting his mind continue to wander in this maze.
Achmed glanced sadly at his German friend Hans, realizing the discussion was over for the present. He felt somewhat guilty for giving way to the heat of the moment and letting out so many secrets. He felt the urge to leave. He got up slowly, went to the back of the room, slid behind some heavy curtains and made a quiet departure down a narrow hallway leading to a side alley.
Hans barely took notice of Achmed’s departure – his brain was doing overtime. This was the type of information that fits into the power struggle puzzle. He had never regarded Achmed as any real source of information. He’s such a quiet horse. Come to think of it, what does he really know about him. From the outside he seems a simple, good-natured person, easy to converse with on general topics, asking questions at the right places. He is also an orthodox Christian, which seems to make him less prejudiced than a Muslim. If Achmed’s information is authentic he thought, he’d better keep it to himself for the moment. It would otherwise jeopardize his stay here. He just hopes Syrian Intelligence never grill Achmed or his relatives. But there again, what’s Syrian Intelligence compared to the Mossad? Where could he be safe from them?
The conversation with Achmed today ended up with the Iraqi occupation. That had touched a nerve. He had listened to Achmed carefully without budging an eyebrow.
He recalled his own heterotelic motives for learning Arabic, built-up over many years – the reason for his being in the Middle East in the first place. Since his first year at German university he had been trying to understand the Arabs and why they want to retain their complicated and one-sided system. Achmed accepted his thirst for knowledge and understanding. They had covered a lot of ground over the last year and a half. Being German too, helped, as he was regarded as a neutral.
He brought his mind into constraint for a while: “Saddle the horses – get ready to jump the obstacles!” followed by a revival of his recent relaxing experience, “Sitting on hot tiles in Hamam, lots of hot water, soaped-up with olive soap and drinking “chai” – the world is our field – mental disconnection – retention,” then back to the main stream, back to reality.
Expectations and perceptions of great strength arose as he tried to collate the images. His gathered his thoughts – he must bind himself more to the Orient and perhaps unveil this new nightmare, makes it all the more challenging. Thoughts of his studies in Germany of recent years, readings of Keyserling, Dostojewski and Spengler, which held so many contradictions, yet were so easily dissolved. Debt and atonement, this treasure influenced a large part of his passive spirituality during his first weeks in Damascus – the thoughts of debt, and atonement being the main parameters. Additional inspiration he gained from Jüngers thoughts about his brother Friedrich Georg and his search for the keys leading to the founding of the occident states – the rules that were the framework for the microcosm of life. The idea state, its parameters and implications becoming transparent, supported also by his studies of Waldgang, Aristotle and Plato in Marburg. Friedrich Georg became his impetus and also Georg’s failure to find any political influence regarding the totalitarian ideas of proletarian Germans and Russians who dispersed the rights of justice. Thereby, Carl Schmitt, apparently a friend of Georg’s older brother, spoke of the leader, ‘der Fuehrer’, the person who dictates the rights.
His mind cleared – back to the present, to that now. The prediction of citizen’s rights, the multiple options in international law adding more and more weight to public rights. Thank goodness we have them, he thought – but alas, they only seem to be apparent in the occident. Trying to analyse the new situation, he went over what Achmed had said,
‘You know Hans – you are very naïve! The biggest crime the Americans committed against humanity was by denying their prisoners held in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Iraq basic international rights and by applying torture. They have lost their rights as a leading nation for that. “The best country in the world and God is on our side.” All that Georg “double-you” bullshit makes me want to vomit! They do not differentiate between the innocent and the guilty when they go hunting terrorists from door to door. They are the kings and bash down all doors, not thinking that nearly all of the people behind those knocked down doors are innocent. Because of these incidents, the Americans make those innocents their enemies. Why don’t they learn from the British who don’t do these things in the South? They learned their lesson in Northern Ireland decades ago.
After over a century of British and French interference in the Middle East, lots of Arabs used to look towards America for guidance. Some had admiration for the American way of life and many go to study in America and a lot of them are now American citizens. Now, we know different. To the Americans we are just underdogs and they treat us all as such. They are just interested in our oil. Their system is so riddled by the Jews that their hands are tied. They will always be on Israel’s side and genocide will continue. You are different. The Germans have behaved well in this conflict. Adolf Hitler, he was a dictator and a bad man, I know. He did horrible things, especially to the Jews. He knew they were the main problem in this world but he did not know why, except of course he hated them and Himmler hated them even more! The Jews have been the guilty ones since the crucifixion of Christ.’
‘What the hell are you talking about Achmed?’ he answered, adding, ‘This type of talk is very anti-Semite, you know. I’m afraid, if you’re going to carry on like this I’ll have to leave!’
‘Hans, wait please. I will tell you a true story, one I know from my other uncle who knows, because it happened to him.’
Achmed replied with such intensiveness and concern, that he decided to listen to him for a while.
‘Okay, Achmed, I’m listening.’
‘Yes, Hans – well it all started in 1995. My uncle Hakim Sadeh is a civil engineer. He worked in the Lebanon for United Saudi Maintenance & Services Company on a 6-month contract basis. They were repairing overland telecommunication stations and setting up new networks. The contract was nearly over when an Egyptian sub-contractor approached him offering him a job in Israel with a company called Cairo Telecommunications Company. What he didn’t know at the time was that this was a subsidiary of Bin Laden Telecommunications Company, a daughter of the Saudi Bin Laden Group, SBG. Well, he worked there for about two months nearly non-stop before he had his first four days off. Not long enough to go home, so he decided to do a bit of sightseeing in Jerusalem. He was walking down the Sultan Suleiman Road one Friday evening. As he made his way into the old town he heard sirens, shouts and some shooting from the temple mountain. He decided he’d better go back and had just turned around when he was overtaken by a group of young Palestinians who looked as though they’d been up to something. That was his bad luck. Shortly after that, as he was walking back slowly, he heard a shout directly behind him. The next thing he felt was a blow in the back of the neck. That was the last he could remember until he woke up in Ashkelon prison. He was kept in solitary confinement for 4 weeks and during that time they kept the lights on in his room all the time, coming in every hour or so just to wake him up and shout obscenities at him, or drag him out and into the interrogation room where they accused him over and over again of terrorism and spying.
They were Mossad, he was told by one of the other prisoners when he was put into another cell. He said he would never forget one particular interrogator who made him strip his clothes off numerous times and humiliate him. They told him he would never leave the prison alive. He only got one meal a day and that was taken away from him sometimes just as he was going to eat it. He wasn’t really beaten, but they pushed and shoved him making him fall and pulling him up by his hair. Once when he was in the interrogation room they asked if he was thirsty. He told them yes, so they gave him a jug of water to drink, then another. When he refused to drink any more they tied his hands, pulled his head back and put a funnel in his mouth and kept pouring in jug after jug. He was never put on trial or given access to a lawyer. One day, after about four months, he was suddenly released, just like that, no apologies, nothing. He was put on a bus with other prisoners and they were driven over to the Palestinian autonomy area.
He has never been able to get his pay or his belongings back. My uncle is a devote Muslim, not like us. He is a very sincere man. He has never done a bad thing in his life. This nearly broke him. It took him 6 years before he took up contract work again. He said he would never work in Israel again.’
‘Did he ever try to sue the Israelis, Achmed?’
‘Oh, he wrote lots of letters, even to the UN. Went to see Mullahs, lawyers and judges, but they all told him there was nothing to gain, as Israel doesn’t recognise international law. But he did manage to get the name of the Mossad interrogator who humiliated him, Ben Goldmann, which he passed on to Amnesty International.’
‘That’s good – maybe one day he’ll get his reckoning.’
‘Hans, you’ll probably not believe this but the horror story for my uncle did not end at this.’
‘As I said, it had taken him 6 years to get his mind back to normal. He took up contract work for an American company in Baghdad last year, wanting to help the Iraqis rebuild their infra-structure.’
‘This is really difficult for me to tell you as things went even worse for him this time. Exactly the same thing happened to him as in Jerusalem, this time it was the Americans.’
‘Yes, he was in Baghdad walking back to his digs from work. As he walked across a square he passed a group who started throwing stones and other things at police and military forces just outside a US camp. He ran for cover when the police and Marines retaliated by shooting back at them. He managed to huddle down behind the big wheel of a parked lorry. They must have singled him out, because they sprayed the lorry with bullets making him stay put. They rounded him up afterwards with a group of the stone throwers. He made out at least a dozen civilians around the square who were lying in pools of blood. They all looked dead.’
‘Surely he managed to convince them he was just a passer-by?’
‘No way.’ He protested in perfect English. They just told him to shut up, he’d get plenty of time to talk afterwards, at which the Marines all laughed.’
‘Couldn’t he get legal assistance or ring his contractor?’
‘Hans, you really are wet behind the ears. For the Americans all Arabs are suspects – they are the enemy, especially well-educated ones. Anyway that’s the way they treated him.’
‘This is terrible.’
‘I know, but the worst is to come. They herded them all into cellblock 1A in Abu Ghraib prison and cut off all their clothes. Their plight was intensified by the presence of two US women MPs and some US male MPs. The women tantalized them. They put a black smelly hood over his head and he had to put his hands behind his head. He felt a mouth close around his penis. He saw what he thought were flashbulbs going off through the bag and knew they were taking pictures of him.’
‘I read about it in the papers, disgusting.’
‘Yes, but the thing that really terrified my uncle was when they took him for interrogation. The first two weeks American Para-Military interrogated him. My uncle thinks they were CIA. My uncle’s English is perfect, he studied in England.’
‘That’s probably what made them think they’d captured a high ranking terrorist,’ said Hans.
‘But he didn’t tell them at first that he’d studied in England. Anyway, they left him alone for another two weeks. He was never charged or given legal advice.’
Achmed took a long sip of chai, looking sadly at the stove.
‘My uncle nearly had a heart attack when he was ushered one Saturday evening to a different interrogation room. He was shackled to a big ring in the floor. In the corner a hooded prisoner was standing naked on a box with electrical wires attached to his arms and genitals. He had read about such torture methods, which Stalin and the Gestapo also used. If you fell off the box you were electrocuted. He was left there alone with the other prisoner, who was perspiring terribly.’
‘This is really sadistic,’ said Hans.
‘Well, some time later, two MPs came, disconnected the wires on the other prisoner and took him away to another room. When they went out the door he could hear screams and shouts from all directions. He told me he’d heard about this and hoped to Allah it was just recordings.’
‘They made him wait for many hours. He was very hungry and thirsty. All of a sudden the door burst open and two interrogators came in. Their clothing looked slightly different from the other interrogators and they spoke to him in Arabic. Because they shone the light in his face he couldn’t see their faces, but he thought he recognised one of the voices.’
‘Good God, it wasn’t that guy from the Mossad?’
‘Yes it was.’
‘Goodness gracious! What are the Mossad doing in Iraq?’
‘Knowing what he does now and what’s been in the press, the Americans used two civilian firms to carry out some of the interrogations. He reckons one company was CIA and the other Mossad, or a mixture of both.’
‘Why would they do that?’
‘Because they don’t have enough specialists who speak and write Arabic in the CIA.’
‘This must have been terrible for your uncle.’
‘Yes it was, and it was made worse because the CIA interrogators had told the Mossad he was hiding something.’
‘Yes, he thought it wise not to mention he’d been in Israel or in one of their jails, also that he’d studied in England. So you can imagine how he felt when Ben Goldmann confronted him. He managed to get a good look one day to make sure it was him.’
‘Good God, it must have been a nightmare for him.’
‘Well, he won’t tell us what he went through after that. We think it was bad. We reckon the imprisonment in Israel had him hardened up so much that he was able to prevail.’
‘Did he let the Mossad man know he knew who he was?’
‘Praise Allah, no – that would’ve been his death warrant. He kept to his original story but let them know he’d studied in the UK, one of the bits he hadn’t told the CIA interrogators.’
‘Was he tortured anymore?’
‘As I said, he wouldn’t talk about those things after his confrontation with Ben Goldmann. He gave us the impression they seemed satisfied with his answers after some further weeks of questioning.’
‘What happened then?’
‘Again, as in Israel, after four months he was put on a bus with other Iraqis and dropped off in the centre of Baghdad.’
‘Will he be taking legal action? I’ve read about some Iraqis who are doing so.’
‘My uncle is too afraid. He says the Mossad would get him if he tried. No one mentioned the Mossad and no one is to know they were involved in Iraq. Can you imagine the outcry and unrest in the Arab world?’
‘God, I feel angry, real angry about this. There must be some way of getting retribution or revenge?’
‘It’s best you forget about what I’ve just told you Hans. My uncle says the Mossad is everywhere and there’s no escape, so stay quiet if you want to stay alive.’