Sunday, August 15, 2004

Madhi Thugs at Work

James Brandon, the British journalist kidnapped and tortured by the Mahdi Thugs, tells his story.

Suddenly the guards came rushing back in. The Mahdi army militia fighters loyal to Sadr were at the gate. They told me to hide under the blankets on a bed used by men on the night shift, feigning sleep so that the militia would go away. Ten seconds later, I heard boots charging up the hall. The blanket was ripped off and I found myself looking into the faces of 15 enraged kidnappers. One of the guards must have tipped them off - either that or the woman from the house had told them what had happened.

They were raging. I was dragged from the bed and pistol-whipped again. At some point, my eye was blackened, but I can't remember when. It is difficult to convey the depth of their anger. Still, I wasn't frightened. There didn't seem much point. It seemed clear what was going to happen: they were going to kill me. After a struggle, they put me in a police pick-up. I kept shouting: "Sahafi! Sahafi!"

My shirt had been ripped off in the melee of punches and kicks. One man hit me on the side of my head with a pistol and my hearing just cut out for about 10 seconds. The battering seemed to go on and on - mostly targeted at my shoulders and neck. They didn't hold me down, but just came at me in endless waves of aggression.

They drove me to a deserted building and ordered me to get out. At first I refused, figuring that if they shot me in the back of the truck, they'd have to clear up a horrible mess - shades of Pulp Fiction. In the end, they beat me so badly that I had no option.

It was in a corridor here that the video camera came out. I kept telling them that I was a journalist, trying to keep them talking. They tried to get me to kneel down on the floor, but I simply would not.

"Talk to the camera," they ordered. They took quite a lot of footage before they staged the short sequence that would later be beamed around the world. "My name is James Brandon. I am a journalist for The Sunday Telegraph. I just report what happens in Iraq."

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