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    Saddam's Iraq: Khaled's story

    AM - Saturday, 18 DecemberÊ, 2004Ê 08:20:00

    Reporter: Mark Willacy

    HAMISH ROBERTSON: Now to a story of two brothers who have sharply diverging views on American policy in the Middle East.

    Khaled Zighari survived more than 19 years in Saddam Hussein's most notorious prison, but now he's made his way home to a West Bank refugee camp.

    While Khaled is one Palestinian who praises the Bush administration for toppling Saddam, his brother Rashid has a rather different perspective. In fact, he's being held in the United States on charges of hijacking and bombing airliners.

    Mark Willacy compiled this report in Duheisha refugee camp in the West Bank.

    MARK WILLACY: He may only be 39 years old, but Khaled Zighari's hair is grey, and his hands shake constantly. And as each cigarette is extinguished, another is lit.

    Khaled has spent nearly half his life in Saddam Hussein's most notorious hell hole - Abu Ghraib jail. Tears well in Khaled's eyes as he tells me of the torture he was subjected to.

    KHALED ZIGHARI (translated): One time I was pulled out of my cell and taken to what they call the operations room. They tied me to the bed, and then they brought out a big pair of scissors. They jammed the blades of the scissors underneath my toenails, then they twisted, and ripped out the nails.

    MARK WILLACY: A Palestinian, Khaled, went to Baghdad as a teenager to attend highschool, but he soon became mixed up in a radical Palestinian terrorist group called the Fifteenth of May faction, which Saddam Hussein allowed to set up headquarters in Baghdad.

    But after a while Saddam became suspicious of the group, so he rounded up and jailed some of its members, including Khaled Zighari. The young Palestinian would end up spending 19 years in Abu Ghraib. He was eventually released as American marines closed in on Baghdad last year.

    KHALED ZIGHARI (translated): During the war, Iraqi intelligence took control over our section of the jail. They told us to take up weapons and help fight the Americans.
    But all the prisoners refused, so they rounded us up and took us out to Rhammadi, then Fallujah. Finally, we ended up in Baquba, but with the US forces closing in, guards came in and unlocked the gates and told us we could walk free.

    MARK WILLACY: So Khaled and his two friends did just that. They walked the 60 kilometres to Baghdad, hiding along the way from looters, bandits, and remnants of Saddam's army.

    Months later, Khaled Zighari secured a temporary Jordanian passport and travel documents, and made his way home here to the Duheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem.

    KHALED ZIGHARI (translated): There's no comparison between being back home and being in Abu Ghraib prison. But even here I'm not totally free, because while I was in jail, Israel cancelled my right to live here, so if I leave Bethlehem, I could be arrested and deported back to Jordan.

    MARK WILLACY: But for now, Khaled Zighari is back with his family, all except for his brother, Rashid. Rashid is one of the leading members of the Fifteenth of May faction.

    KHALED ZIGHARI (translated): He's been in jail in the United States for eight years on charges of putting a bomb on an airliner. I haven't seen Mohammed since I was thrown in Abu Ghraib 20 years ago.

    MARK WILLACY: Rashid, also known as Mohammed Rashid, was involved in the kidnapping of OPEC leaders in 1975, the Air France hijacking to Entebbe in Uganda a year later, and the bombing of a TWA flight to Rome in the 1980s.

    That bombing blew a hole in the side of the aircraft, sucking out four American passengers, including a baby.
    While his brother, Rashid, remains in a US jail, Khaled Zighari is thankful to the Bush administration for triggering his release from Abu Ghraib.

    KHALED ZIGHARI (translated): No doubt whatsoever, I look at the US soldiers as people who liberated me, I have great respect for them. Without them, I would still be a guest of Saddam Hussein.

    MARK WILLACY: This is Mark Willacy in the Duheisha refugee camp in the West Bank for AM.
 
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