Freed al-Zaidi alleges torture

Bush-baiting hero plans to release names of people behind his ill-treatment

“Here I am free, and my country is still captured,” said the journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, during a news conference at the television station where he had worked.

He claimed that he was beaten with pipes and steel cables and that he received electric shocks while in custody. He added that he believed there were many who would like to see him dead, including unidentified American intelligence agencies.

Zaidi did not take questions after his brief remarks, but family members said he would travel to Greece, where he would receive medical and psychological care.

“He is going to flee,” said his brother, Uday al-Zaidi. Part of the reason he fears for his life, his brother said, is that he plans of releasing the names of people who played a role in his being tortured, including those who he said were high-ranking security officials.
Muntader al-Zaidi said when he was arrested after hurling his shoes at Bush at a December news conference, those inside could probably still hear his screams. He said he was shackled, soaked in water and kept in a place with no heat in the cold night. “I will name later those involved in torturing me, among them high-ranking officials in the government and the Army,” he said.

Ali al-Mosawi, an adviser to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said that the accusations should be viewed skeptically since Zaidi had just been released from prison. He did not address the specific charges.

In a room packed with reporters and family members, Zaidi on Tuesday remained defiant, describing the anger and helplessness he experienced after the American invasion in 2003, the suffering of widows and orphans he witnessed and why he felt compelled to wage a protest.

Security around the television studio where Zaidi spoke shortly after his release was stepped up, with dozens of police officers and other armed escorts cordoning off much of the neighbourhood. On the streets, supporters banged drums, chanted his name and slaughtered sheep in his honor. Inside the station, family members wept with joy, even though they knew that Zaidi might not be able to return to Iraq in the near future.

The Iraqi government, which was acutely embarrassed by the episode, played down Zaidi’s release, barring the family from meeting him at the gates of the prison where he was held and, instead, quietly escorting him to his family’s residence in the capital. Given Zaidi’s cult hero status, his charges that he was mistreated could resonate
widely.

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