US frees Palestinian envoys in Iraq

Two Palestinian diplomats have been released from notorious Abu Ghraib prison after a year in US custody in Iraq.

    The diplomats have spent a year in the notorious Abu Ghraib jail

    The Palestinian charge d'affaires, Dalil al-Qusus, has called his colleagues' ordeal a flagrant violation of diplomatic norms.
    "I went to Abu Ghraib to meet them yesterday. I saw the cells. Ninety men held in one barracks," said Dalil al-Qusus on Sunday.

    "The Americans have no respect for diplomacy. When they came out it was emotional. They said they thought they would never make it out."

    Najah Abd Al-Rahman, 53,then Palestinian charge d'affaires, and commercial attache Munir Subhi, in his mid forties, were held in Abu Ghraib prison for alleged illegal possession of weapons and suspicion of links to terrorism, al-Qusus said.

    US officials on Sunday said they had no comment.
    No immunity

    The United States said at the time that all diplomats lost immunity after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April last year and Washington did not recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as the representative of a sovereign state.

    The US says all diplomats lost
    their status after Saddam's fall

    But al-Qusus called the detentions a blatant disregard for diplomatic immunity in the name of US President George Bush's war on terror.
    The diplomats' odyssey began on 28 May 2003 when employees arrived at the embassy in the morning. Al-Qusus fled when he saw the Americans rounding up people.

    He later learned that the Americans had arrested the two diplomats and 10 other people, including embassy security guards and Iraqi gardeners.

    "There were five Kalashnikov rifles and five pistols. These were weapons that we had for 15 years as protection in the embassy during Saddam's time," said al-Qusus.

    Abu Ghraib
    He said the two diplomats were handcuffed and surrounded by barbed wire outside the embassy building, where a soldier described them as "terrorists".

    They were taken to a detention facility at Baghdad airport where they slept on the ground outdoors, and were later moved to Abu Ghraib - a notorious torture facility under Saddam that is now at the centre of a prisoner abuse scandal by US soldiers.

    Al-Qusus said the diplomats did not experience the same trauma as some Iraqi inmates, but he stressed that they faced generally poor conditions.
    The veteran diplomat, who will return to his job as cultural attache when Abd Al-Rahman is fit enough to take up his post again, said the Palestinian experience at Abu Ghraib suggested anyone was vulnerable to American detention in Iraq.

    Declining fortunes

    The US occupation has not been kind to Palestinians. Nearly 300 Palestinian families were evicted from their homes after the invasion.

    Nearly 300 Palestinian families
    were evicted after the invasion

    Muhammad Abbas, leader of the Palestine Liberation Front who masterminded a deadly 1985 Italian cruise ship hijacking, died in US custody in March.

    Al-Qusus said the Americans were currently holding 15 Palestinian students on the same allegations that sent the two diplomats to jail.

    Al-Qusus said the diplomat were in bad shape and needed to undergo medical tests.

    "I met Richard Jones (the US deputy administrator in Iraq). He told me they were held in relation to terrorism. That was all he would say," said al-Qusus.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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