The Pentagon initially objected to the airing of film footage showing American POWs in the Iraq war and dead American soldiers. The families of the soldiers had not been notified at that time of their captivity or death in combat. But the real issue is what happens to the POWs after they are captured.
In this context, the photos of the dead American soldiers in Iraq, who may have been executed, may serve to illustrate the brutality of the regime. In fact, before the war, ABC News had aired a revealing story featuring interviews with American POWs from the first Gulf War. “I won’t lie to you; I was terrified 95 percent of the time I was there,” said former POW Major Craig Berryman. Former prisoners said the Iraqis threatened to amputate body parts and mail them to the prisoners’ relatives in the United States.
Colonel Cliff McCree said, “My prevailing thought was they’re gonna cripple me, or they’re gonna kill me.” McCree and the others were in the basement cells of the Iraqi secret police headquarters, a place of brutality, torture and misery. McCree said he was so hungry during his captivity that he ate scabs off his own body. He said, “I can tell you that for about 20 minutes of my captivity, they played by the Geneva Convention. The rest of the time, they did not.” He was repeatedly hit over the head by a metal pipe and his skull was fractured. The treatment of the POWs was supervised by Saddam’s son Uday.
One prisoner, former Marine officer Jeff Zahn, was forced to condemn the U.S. during a videotaped session. “I think our leaders and our people have wrongfully attacked the peace-loving people of Iraq,” he said. Zahn had a fractured shoulder, and his hands were tied behind his back. He was told if he didn’t make the anti-U.S. statement he would be killed. He lost 30 pounds in 46 days.
Dale Store, a pilot shot down by Iraqi anti-aircraft fire, spent 33 days as a prisoner. He said, “I was on the ground and they kicked me in the face and kidneys. Earlier, they had tortured me with electric shocks. … When they finally stopped asking me questions, I was hoping they would kill me.” Former POW and Army Sergeant Troy Dunlap told the Chicago Sun-Times that, after he was captured, an Iraqi soldier clicked what turned out to be an unloaded gun at his temple while another shouted, “Kill him!” The paper said, “Dunlap was tied to a chair and wrapped in a kerosene-soaked blanket. Civilians were allowed to hit and spit at him. He was kicked in the legs and head, and the back of his neck was scorched with hot spoons.” In a lawsuit against Iraq filed by Dunlap and other former POWs, they describe beatings with pistols, weighted rubber hoses, blackjacks and steel-toed boots. He lost 18 pounds in seven days as a prisoner, and now has nightmares twice a week about the experience.
Female POW Colonel Rhonda Cornum was raped by her Iraqi captors, who also broke both her arms. But Cornum did not reveal the sexual abuse publicly until 4 years after the war. She says that this is what war is, and it was just one form of abuse inflicted on the POWs. That may not be much comfort to the American female POW now being held by the Iraqis.