- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Seven Iraqi men whose right hands were amputated by Saddam Hussein’s regime nine years ago attended the first public viewing in the United States yesterday of “Remembering Saddam,” the documentary that tells their stories.

The seven were among nine merchants who were accused of dealing in American dollars, a crime in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war. They were arrested and imprisoned for a year in Abu Ghraib prison.

As further punishment, Saddam ordered the right hand of each man to be surgically removed. Tattoos were etched on their foreheads to mark them as criminals for the rest of their lives.

While working with the Iraqi Media Network, Don North was inspired to produce “Remembering Saddam” after viewing a videotape of a surgeon removing the hands. He found the victims and interviewed the men and their families.

Before his arrest in 1995, Basim Al Fadhy was a business manager in Baghdad. He is now a full-time reporter and producer for Iraq Media Network.

“Is this the hand that was threatening Saddam?” he said in the documentary as he watched his mutilation.

The men traveled with Mr. North to Washington last week to show the film and educate the American public about their experiences under Saddam’s rule. They also met with President Bush in the Oval Office.

“The second I entered his office, I was surprised,” said Laith Aggar, “because it is a small office.”

Qasim Kadhim said he felt honored. “Frankly, it is considered to be a great day for us,” he said. “A person like myself — I am just an ordinary person — sitting with a president of the most important country now in the world. This is something extraordinary.”

While making the documentary, Mr. North asked Houston TV reporter Marvin Zindler whether he could help the Iraqi men. Mr. Zindler called Dr. Joseph Agris, a plastic surgeon in Houston.

Dr. Agris repaired some of the damage inflicted on the men nine years ago.

With the help of many benefactors, each man received a prosthetic hand that Dr. Agris surgically attached at no charge.

“When we first thought about this, we thought it was impossible,” Dr. Agris said. “Then, as each block fell into place, it seemed more and more possible.”

Salah Zinad, who had endured physical and psychological suffering after the loss of his hand, was overjoyed last month when he received his new bionic hand.

“It gave us new hope for life,” he said. “This hand will remind us of the fine and wonderful people here.”

Mr. Zinad said that with the help of coalition fighters, “we have been able to open the big prison — the prison of Iraq.”

The seven men are eager to return to their families early next month.

Mr. North and Dr. Agris plan travel back to Baghdad with them to ensure they receive proper medical care.

Mr. North’s film is saturated with images of unmarked graves, mutilated victims and mourning families.

In the United States “many people have forgotten the crimes of Saddam,” he said. “We need to be reminded.”

Hassan Al Gearawy fled Iraq with his wife and four children after he lost his hand, and is living in the Netherlands. He hopes he will serve as a reminder of the vicious nature of Saddam’s regime.

“I wish to all the leaders in the world and the honest people in the world that we will be living martyrs,” he said.

The Arabic-language version of the film was broadcast Tuesday on Al Hurra, a television network transmitted by satellite in Baghdad and throughout the Arab world.

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