- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

BAGHDAD — Three Iraqi military doctors, who claim to have risked their lives to protect seven American POWs from Saddam’s death squads, plan an appeal to President Bush after losing their jobs under rules of the U.S.-led occupation.

Drs. Saad Ali Saleh, Mohammed Khalaf and Ahmed Hammad Abdallah told The Washington Times that they looked after the captured Americans under conditions of strict secrecy and extreme danger.

When coalition bombs were striking the Baghdad prison where the soldiers were held, the doctors helped get them evacuated to another facility, Dr. Saleh said.

“Are they going to hurt us; are they going to kill us?” Dr. Saleh recalled Army Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando, Fla., asking him soon after the pilot realized that the man who had arrived in his darkened cell two days after his capture could speak English.

“No, you’ll get out alive,” the doctor said he assured Chief Warrant Officer Williams.

Dr. Saleh, 48, held the rank of general in Iraqi military intelligence and was the most senior of the physicians who treated the U.S. soldiers. Under rules of the occupation authority, military intelligence officers including physicians are ineligible to work for the interim administration.

Dr. Saleh and his fellow doctors, in a series if interviews, provided the first-ever account from the Iraqi side of the days the American POWs spent in captivity.

The Apache helicopter flown by Chief Warrant Officer Williams along with Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, of Lithia Springs, Ga., had been forced down near Nasiriya, on the Tigris River on March 24.

Nearby, the Iraqis also held captive six other soldiers from a military resupply convoy that had been ambushed a day earlier after taking a wrong turn near Nasiriya.

Several of the American POWs were filmed, dazed and cowering, by Iraqi television in scenes that were displayed worldwide via Al Jazeera television.

Immediately after the filming, all but one of the eight prisoners were blindfolded and driven to Baghdad’s Al Rasheed Military Police Prison No. 1.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch was left behind with injuries too severe for her to be moved and was subsequently rescued in a raid in which the bodies of Americans soldiers killed during the attack were also recovered.

In Baghdad, the other POWs languished on the floors of small cells, surviving on rice, potatoes and scraps of bread.

“Do you have a wife and kids?” Dr. Saleh asked the pilot, who said he had two young children, in their first encounter. “Well you’ll return to them safe and well.”

The doctor now says he was far from sure of any such happy ending.

As a senior military-intelligence medical officer who had served in that branch for more than two decades, he admitted to having been chillingly aware of the ruthless track record of the Saddam regime’s security services.

“I was dead sure, if these prisoners had been taken by Qusai Hussein’s special security force, not military intelligence, that they would not return back [alive],” he said in an interview in his comfortable suburban Baghdad home.

Dr. Saleh recruited a military orthopedic surgeon, Brig. Gen. Shaker al Ainachi, a neighbor, who in turn called in a civilian anesthetist, Dr. Samer abel Hussein.

Surgery was performed March 27 on Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, who had been shown on television lying on a stretcher and had a severely injured right arm; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, who had a back wound containing shrapnel; and Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, who had injuries to both her ankles.

Dr. Saleh said he and his colleagues intend to make a written appeal to Mr. Bush, on his visit to the region this week, to make an exception to a blanket ban imposed on former intelligence officers serving the interim administration.

“We haven’t received one word of thanks from anyone. And now we have no job,” Dr. Saleh said.

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