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Saddam's Secret Security Files Open Wounds for Thousands of Victims' Families - 2003-06-27

Since the overthrow of the Baghdad government, evidence of atrocities against the Iraqi people is coming to light with growing frequency.

In early June a mass grave at Salman Pak, 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, was uncovered. The grave is believed to contain remains of 150 bodies. The human remains are believed to be that of Shia Muslims, murdered by Saddam’s regime. One man told Associated Press Television that on April 4 of this year, he saw four busloads of people brought to the site, by militia run by Saddam’s oldest son, Uday.

Many Iraqi families are now desperately seeking information about loved ones who disappeared under Saddam’s rule.

They come by the hundreds every day to this house in Baghdad by the Tigris River, searching for loved ones who disappeared under Saddam’s regime. The house is the former residence of one of Saddam’s family members. Recently it was taken over by The Committee for Free Prisoners.

"These people, all of these people, they are very honorable people for this country. They have paid themselves, their blood, to build this country," Amjad Tabla said.

The Committee for Free Prisoners is an organization helping people like Amjad Tabla and his brother Haider Tabla. They left Iraq 23 years ago for Sweden and Germany when their father and six brothers were arrested by Saddam’s security services. The committee has been collecting Saddam’s secret security files from locations all over Baghdad.

"The work is very big to find out all of these names," Amjad Tabla said.

The committee estimates there are 20 million files dating back to 1966, some of which are trucked in and sorted in the basement down these stairs.

"Even in the science fiction movies, we can’t imagine that we can find such a thing," Haider Tabla said.

The files come in mangled filing cabinets, cardboard boxes, and open piles. For reasons of privacy we weren’t allowed to look in them or video tape the contents. But they would allow us to read the basic information on the cover.

"By the way this is a Christian man," Haider Tabla said.

Those who have read them say they paint a grim picture of intimidation, interrogation, torture and execution. If someone is accused, it is very likely the entire family down to the smallest child will be accused as well.

"Because he is a relative to one member of the Dawa Party, he has been accused and he has a file with the security forces," Amjad Tabla said. "And he is working with the police. He is a policeman!”

Volunteers are working eight hours a day sorting through the files.

Haider Tabla said, "They open file by file. And separate those who have been executed and those who have been accused of something by the security police. And this operation takes a lot of time."

The families of the executed are then notified. In the days of Saddam, to even inquire about the missing could get you killed. Then the records are carted off to a secure location.

The Committee for Free Prisoners confirmed what the Tabla family already expected. Their father was executed in 1982. And the six brothers in 1983, all on the same day. The youngest was only 15.

"This one. He was 15," Amjad Tabla said.

For some, to know is not enough. The anger and pain is almost too much to bear.

"We ask for an Iraqi and international trial against Saddam as a war criminal," a woman on the street said.

That is, if he is caught alive.