Netiran>Articles>Politics>Foreign Affairs>An Interview with Saeid Abutaleb, 134 Days after His Captivity
: "Date Added:Nov 24 2003 Print Version
An Interview with Saeid Abutaleb, 134 Days after His Captivity
Jam-e-Jam, Daily Newspaper, No. 1017, Nov. 22nd, 2003, Page 5
By : Mohammad Reza Rajabi Shakib
Word Count : 7548
Saeid Abutaleb, an Iranian journalist who had been in the captivity of the American troops in Iraq for 126 days, speaks about the illogical behaviors of the Americans in Iraq.
According to Abutaleb, in the camp he was kept, he had seen a large number of pilgrims who have been arrested and jailed at random by the American troops. For instance. they stopped a vehicle carrying relief supply to Iraq on its way back home and arrested its driver while allowing the second car to proceed. When the driver of the second car announced he was in company of the first car, they arrested him immediately.
It is not very difficult for me to write an introduction to the interview with Saeid Abutaleb because I have known him for years. Of course, it makes no difference now because every body knows Saeid Abutaleb and Soheil Karimi, the two documentaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) who were taken captive by the American troops in Iraq and released 126 days later. This is exactly why I do not intend to write any introduction to this interview because it is useless repeating what have already been said and heard about Saeid Abutaleb over the past few months. The following interview conducted one week after release of Saeid Abutaleb and Soheil Karimi, contains new points which have never been mentioned before. This is an interview between two friends or I had better say between a student and his teachers. Mr. Abutaleb was teaching ... at my high school many years ago.
Q: Well, how was the life in Iraq?
A: I enjoyed myself.
A: As a matter of fact, we were destined from the beginning to enter Iraq via Shalamcheh. It was somehow out of our control because we were initially supposed to enter Iraq via Mehran. Mehran us very close to the center of Iraq and from there we could easily travel to Baghdad and Karbala. In the middle of our trip, I suddenly insisted that we should go towards Shalamcheh. Perhaps I wanted to see the other side of Shalamcheh. I have seen this side of Shalamcheh several times. I have many stories to tell about war in Shalamcheh. We dedicated a large number of martyrs there. I would like very much to cross the embankments into the other side. However, it was a sudden decision.
Q: So, it was due to your decision that your programs were changed...
A: We changed our route. If we wanted to travel to Mehran we should have gone towards Kermanshah. We even proceeded as far as Kermanshah but we changed our direction towards the south. It was around midnight that we reached Khorramshahr. Later on, we entered Basra via Shalamcheh border region. We started our work and prepared our programs in Basra. We were willing to depart for Karbala as soon as possible. As a matter of fact, we were scheduled to go straight to Karbala and stayed there.
Q: Hadn't you been to Karbala before?
A: No. I would like very much to go there. of course, during the reign of Saddam Hussein, my family traveled there but I did not want to go at that time.
Q: You mean despite having the opportunity to go to Karbala, you refused to go there just because of the ruling regime of Saddam Hussein. Don't you?
A: Saddam (Hussein) was actually the one with whom we had fought. The man whom we had fought was the ruler of Iraq at that time. Moreover, where did the four million rial cash that the Iraq government took from every Iranian pilgrim go? How much on earth did the travel of each Iranian pilgrim to Karbala cost the Iraqi government? Let's change the topic.
Q: What you are saying is introduction. Do you want to say at last whether you had a good time there or not?
A: Yes. However, we reached Basra. We though we could stay for a few days there and then we would proceed towards Karbala. But our work lasted much longer than we had initially thought. Every time we decided to travel to Karbala, something happened, thus preventing us from going there. In short, it took 14 days for us to pack and depart for Karbala. Of course, we did many works during that period.
Q: What did you do?
A: We filmed many subjects from various aspects.
Q: Do you mean you had no pre-planned subject for filming and that you went there to see what would happen?
A: No. We had thought about general topics. Our main topic was the life of the Iraqi people after the war. It was the first time that TV cameras had been taken into Iraq without any control of the Saddam regime. All films taken already during the rule of the Baathist regime were restricted to holy Islamic places.
But this time we were after filming the Iraqi people who had been engaged in wars for years. The people of Basra had been engaged in war with Iran more than their fellow countrymen living elsewhere in the country. We wanted to approach this people and see for ourselves their life and homes. We would like them to tell us about war years, about the calamities they had been exposed to by Saddam Hussein and about their situation during Iraq-U.S. war.
Q: Were you after this alone or there were something else? There are some speculations that when the Americans arrested you they thought you were doing something else under cover of film making.
A: No we had no other objective but to make a documentary film.
Q: Do you want to frankly say there was no secret goal behind your trip to Iraq and you can say everything about it now?
A: It is very good that you are talking so frankly. There was no secret point behind our travel to Iraq. As a matter of fact our work had nothing to do wit what you are thinking of. We had gone there to make a documentary serial for the Channel Two. The serial consisted of 13 30-minute parts. Our schedule was clear and we had forms showing the subjects we had to investigate to see whether we could make a film about them. The American officers interrogating us constantly asked questions about these forms.
Q: What are the subjects you are taking about?
A: For example, one of these subjects was extension of relief assistance to the Iraqi people by the Iranian nation. After the war, they (Iraqi people) had even no water to drink during the hot summer time. We wanted to see for ourselves how the Iraqi people behaved Iranians including us. The Iran-Iraq border had been closed until a few months ago and we had the experience of a lengthy war between the two countries. The Iranian people have forgotten the past and are now sending relief supplies to the Iraqi people. We wanted to see how the Iraqi people's approach to the relief aid was or whether they accept them or not. Of course, it was the Iranian people and not the Iraqi people that have shown forgiveness because Iraq had initiated the war on Iran. This was very beautiful.
Q: Excuse my interruption. Let's go back to Shalamcheh and the adventure you had there. I really want to hear you answer to my question as to whether you had a good time there. Another point is that as you said you had no other objective by to make documentary films in Iraq. Didn't you happen to exceed your limits while making documentary films? In other words, didn't you take any provocative measures that caused the Americans to arrest you?
A: I have no idea. As you know, I and Mr. Karimi were detained while our cameras were in our hands and our journalistic cards were hanging over our shirts. There was nothing except filming equipment in our car and we were doing nothing but filming. As you said we might probably have done something that was unpleasant to the Americans, well I think we had certainly done something that the Americans did not like.
Q: Which parts of Iraq did you film?
A: We filmed the life and homes of the Iraqi people. As you know, we are documentary film makers. We turn on the camera and film every thing that appears before the camera. We speak to people and record it. I ask the Iraqi people whether they like the Americans or not and they say no. What people answer has nothing to do with me. I do not tell them to say they should like the Americans.
They might say they liked the Americans and in that case it had nothing to do with me.
Q: You were not the only reporters dispatched to Iraq. Why did they arrest you?
A: First of all, who says they did nothing against others. They killed a Reuter's reporter and then said it was a mistake, just as they arrested us and said later it was a mistake. Moreover, unlike other reporters we did not go to Baghdad to say at a hotel. We entered Iraq via a border crossing which was far away from Baghdad. We did no even stay in the city of Basra. We went to villages around Basra like Al-Qornia and Al-Amara. There was no military zone at all in that region. This means that their claim that we had filmed a military area was unfounded. There were no American troops there. In that region, there were British troops who were inside Basra. This is reality that the Americans did not like our films and this does not matter at all. Neither they should detain us because we were not making films that they did not like, nor should we necessarily make a film that was appealing to them. I am responsible for what appears before my camera. The outcome of our work might have been something they liked. We were merely filming. We visited injured children at Basra hospital. I asked one of them what had happened to him and he said in reply that they had been bombed by the Americans. I asked him where his home was and he gave the address of his home. I asked if there was a military garrison near his home and he gave a negative response. I asked why the Americans had bombed there and he responded he did not know. His answers had nothing to do with me because I was reviewing an accident. I asked a rural old woman, a teacher or a student what calamities had befallen them during Saddam's rule. They answered they suffered a lot but that he has been toppled. They said they were suffering from those who have replaced Saddam. They said when Saddam was in power they had access to drinking water and enjoyed security but we have none of them now. I have nothing to do with what they answer because I am making a documentary film.
Q: These all mean that the Americans arrested you because they did not like the film you were making. Is this right?
A: As you know, the Americans arrested us 16 or 17 days after our entry into Iraq and two or three days after being stationed in Karbala. In other words, we were detained two or three days after our entry into the zone of influence of the American troops. Did the Americans keep an eye on us from the beginning? It might be so. Did the British keep an eye on us or did they report our arrival at Karbala to the Americans? Did the British allow the Americans to arrest us because they did not want their country's relations with Iran to be strained? Did Iraqi informers report to the Americans that we were allegedly making a film against them? I do not know. I say the film we were making might an anti-U.S. film but this did not provide them with a good reason to arrest us. The Americans themselves make films against their army. It is not such that every body who makes a film can be arrested by another person who does not like the film.
Q: Didn't you have accomplices? In other words, weren't there any other groups of cameramen doing something similar to yours?
A: Yes. We saw cameramen in Samarra, but I do not know whether they were journalists or documentary film makers. They were in the same hotel where we stayed for one night.
Q: What were their nationalities?
A: I do not know. Perhaps some of them were Europeans and some others looked like Japanese. We stayed at that hotel only for one night. I only saw the word 'TV' inscribed on their car. Perhaps, they, like us, were making films for television. I did not find any opportunity to speak to them.
Q: Well, in my opinion it is not justifiable that you had been captured and kept for four months on charges of making films. You may say I am stubborn but I cannot help thinking about it because it is the most ambiguous part of the issue.
A: As you know, we were arrested by the Americans while filming. Apparently, as soon as they saw us filming, they became suspicious of us and then they detained us. This is what they had told us later several times. This was said again by the American officer who was interrogating us until four or five days before our release. What is interesting is that he (the American officer) said it was not an interrogation but a friendly chat and that we were free to give or not to give response to his questions. We told him that they had done whatever they wished against us over the past four months and now we were under their captivity while you said it was a friendly chat. As a matter of fact, we did not dislike our interrogation because even for a few minutes we were let out of that hellish prison and stay in the interrogation room which was cool.
Q: So you had a good time at least during interrogation. Didn't you?
A: Yes. However, what the officer was telling us was that a mistake had been made. He blamed the mistake on the soldier who had arrested us or this or that officer who had issued our arrest warrant. He said those who had arrested you by mistake could not free you so easily because our release order should have come from Washington.
Q: Do you want to say they had told you to forgive them because a mistake had been made after a four month delay?
A: I, too, told them that what they said was not justifiable. A mistake can be corrected after a few seconds, a few hours or a few days. Suppose that those American marines who beat and tortured us for the first few days after our arrest were mistaken or that military police detained us by mistake and handed over us to the U.S. marines or they brought us to Baghdad where they apologized for the mistake, then they should have released us. They have a disciplined system, they have computers and it is known who we are and where is our country of origin. They kept us for four months and now they are saying there has been a mistake. Of course, the theory of mistake is what they were trying to make us believe.
Q: Well, there had to be an excuse for the mistake. What on earth had you done that caused them to make such a mistake?
A: We were arrested while filming a check point. We had already got a permission. Later on, they exactly told us that the soldier who had allowed us to film the check point either immediately understood that he was not authorized to give such a permission or realized that he should not have given the permission and therefore he arrested us.
Q: What exactly were you filming at the check point when you were detained?
A: We were filming people. We were standing at the same check point because it was secure. We could not stand in the middle of the street to film people crossing the check point. It was nearly dusk and the city was insecure. We were standing at the same check point. We exchanged greetings with the soldiers manning the check point and got permission for filming. After making necessary coordination, they gave us the O.K.
Q: Do you mean you were half way through your work when they came and arrested you?
A: They came forward, seized our cameras and then arrested us without giving any explanation. In other words, they did not initially tell us not to film, nor did anybody caution us against filming. Mr. Karimi was arrested by the same soldier who had given us the permission for filming.
Q: At last, I did not understand why did they arrest you?
A: We did not understand the reasons for our arrest either. Two hours after our detention, when I asked them why they had detained us they replied that they were sorry and that it was not an important matter. They also said they just wanted to check our documents. They told us that we would go to Divaniya where we would be freed. But later on, the took us to Divaniya and handed us over to the U.S. marines. We were kept in Divaniya for seven to eight days. No body answered out questions or gave any explanations. They only beat us up.
Q: You were beaten up. Why?
A: In Divaniya, I and Soheil were together on the first two days. We were kept inside a small room, handcuffed. No body did give reply to our questions. During the first two days, no body did us any harm. There war a cooler in the room and we had beds. We were in bad psychological conditions. We were worried because they had arrested us and no one had heard anything about us, neither our families nor our colleagues. They had confiscated our cameras as well as our documents. We did not know who the hell they were or why they had arrested us.
In short, the two days passed by but on the third day everything changed. They suddenly attacked us, beating us up and dragging us out of the room. We were blindfolded and our hands were tied from behind. They constantly threatened us with death.
Q: Do you mean their behaviors changed all of a sudden?
A: Yes exactly. I was sitting near Soheil when a soldier came forward and pointed at me to step forward. He then showed a gesture of slashing throat with his fingers to show me that my days were numbered. At that moment, I was sure that they would kill us by a firing squad. They armed their weapons and stood behind us for a while, forcing us to stand in the same position.
Q: Didn't you guess what was going on at that time? In other words what had caused them to go to the extremes?
A: Nothing. As a matter of fact there was no time for thinking.
Q: What did happen later?
A: I was separated from Soheil from that night onwards. I were handcuffed and blindfolded when Soheil left me. In the morning when I opened my eyes I realized that Soheil had gone. There was me and our driver who was a quite indifferent and neutral man. He did not speak at all and spent most of his time lying at the corner of the room.
Q: Was the driver an Iraqi native?
A: Yes. We found him in Basra. He was with us wherever we were taken to the last day.
Q: What happened later? In think we are nearing the interesting parts of the story. I think it is the time when you were enjoying yourself. Isn't it?
A: We were under psychological pressure until then. But later on physical pressure was added to it. My hands were tied from behind which was very agonizing and painful. They were ties very tightly. They used plastic handcuffs. I was handcuffed so tightly that blood could hardly flow in the veins of my arms. There were bruises on my hands. I was also blindfolded and thus could not
see anything. I did not recognize where I was. From that night onwards, I was forced to stand up and they did not allow my to sit down any longer.
Q: What do you mean?
A: What I mean is that I had no right to sit down and if I did so they beat me up immediately.
Q: Do you want to say that there was a person watching you all the time?
A: I was watched by three persons, two of them standing beside me and the other aiming his rifle at me.
Q: How long were you under such conditions?
A: From Friday to Wednesday.
Q: Do you mean you had been forced to stand up for five consecutive days?
A: Yes. For the whole five days and five nights they did not allow me to sit or sleep while standing up or lean against the wall. There was a cooler in the room which they turned off from that night onwards. I was also deprived of drinking water. On the first night, they gave me a pack of food which I refused to eat. They threw the same pack at me next night. It was inside a yellow plastic vessel around which the words 'from the people of the United States to the people of Iraq' could be seen.
Q: How is it possible for one to stand up for five consecutive days? This will finally exhaust his power...
A: Sometimes I found myself lying on the ground after fainting. In those cases, they poured water on my face to make me conscious. As soon as I opened my eyes, I saw those making noises over my head, insulting me and kicking me in order to prevent me from falling asleep.
Q: They did not give you food or water. Did they?
A: There was no food. As a matter of fact, under those conditions, I did not feel hungry at all but I badly felt thirsty. They drank water from 1.5 liter Jerry cans. When I asked for water, the American soldier who was on guard went out to fetch me a bottle of water from a water tank if he felt pity for me or he so wished. The water tank located in the open air was usually used by the American troops for bathing. It was made of iron and the water kept inside it was really hot. When they brought me a bottle of water from the tank it was like hot tea. I drank some of it and put the rest aside to get cold. However, an American officer entered the room every few hours and kicked the bottle onto the ground.
Q: Would you mind if I asked how did you go to lavatory?
A: Sometimes when I wanted them to let me go to lavatory outside the room, the guard on duty allowed me to go out if he wished to do so and sometimes he did not let me leave the room. When I said I needed water to wash myself, sometimes I was allowed to take water and sometimes I was not depending on the mood of the guard who was on duty on that day. During the five days, I tried to make similar demands very often in order to go out and find out what time it was. When I was locked inside the room, it was impossible for me to know how the time was passing by.
Q: What are you saying is tantamount to torture in the strictest sense of the word? Did you ever think that one day you might be taken captive by the American troops under such circumstances?
A: I did not even dream it. There is a time when you are interrogated at two o'clock in the morning and are exposed to all types of harassment and persecution but you are finally allowed to return to your cell. But for me in the said five day period, lying on a solid surface had become a dream. I wished I had been able to lie somewhere or put my head on the ground.
Q: Well, didn't you answer their questions or cooperate with them?
A: I completely cooperated with them. None of their questions did ever remain unanswered by me. I even provided them with such information as my home telephone number, my child's name, my e-mail address, how I got married, and the model of the car in which we traveled from Tehran to the border region, what was its license plate or to whom it belonged and so on. They asked me every question you can imagine and I replied to all of them.
Q: What the hell did they want from you? Didn't you protest against your situation during interrogation?
A: The officer interrogating me told me that I did not have a friendly attitude towards them. I answered that what kind of cooperation I did not have with them. I answered all questions they might have in mind. Again he said that I did not have a friendly attitude towards them.
Q: What did happen after those five days? When did you go later?
A: Now I have begun to speak about those five days, let me tell you everything pertaining to those days.
Q: Is it not over yet?
A: The guards watching me came to me whenever their shift was over and began to mimic me. They used to call me Ali Baba, a reference to the legendary character of the book Ali Baba and Thieves of Baghdad. At first I replied to them by saying that I am journalist of the Iranian radio and TV organization. They were all impolite, illogical and completely aggressive. Once I was looking at the wall when the guard told me not to look at him. I bent my neck and began to look at the ground. He suddenly shouted at me and told me to raise my head and stand facing the wall. When I did so, he walked past me and hit my head against the wall. This situation continued for 10-20 minutes and every time he approached me he either kicked my legs or poured water into my face, ears and eyes. Sometimes they attacked me in group, beating me up until I fainted.
Q: On the first day when you entered Iraq you had a negative approach towards the Americans. They arrested, took you captive for 126 days and persecuted you. Now if I ask you what is your feeling towards the Americans now...
A: It is not so at all.
Q: Do you mean you had not negative attitude towards the Americans?
A: No. Our relations with the Americans had been good before they detained us.
Q: I did not mean you relations with the Americans. I actually meant the mentality you had towards the Americans.
A: Well, all men have a kind of mentality towards one another.
Q: Has your mentality not changed after your captivity in Iraq?
A: Not very much. I already knew something but my knowledge was based on what I heard. But during my captivity I saw for myself what I have heard about Americans. For instance, the Americans tell lies, accuse others, have an aggressive nature, do not accept logics and recognize nobody but themselves and so on. These are what I saw for myself in Iraq. But I came to know this after my captivity.
Q: Iranian pilgrims who usually travel to Karbala do not usually complain about violent behavior of the American troops towards them and even the majority of them speak of their good behavior. What is your opinion?
A: As they say they were not mistreated by the Americans. That is right because they could not have any other behavior towards you when you cross the check points once or twice a day. Well when the Americans see a person crossing the check point along with his wife and children they cannot do him any harm. Given that one hundred thousands people cross the check points every day, the Americans cannot harass all of them. Nonetheless, the Americans have detained a large number of innocent people including many drivers who had brought relief assistance to Iraq. America does whatever it wishes to do in Iraq. Perhaps, it is not willing to harass Iranian pilgrims for the time being because it knows pilgrims come to Iraq from Iran and then get back home. But this does not mean that its behavior is good. When asked what did they mean by saying that Americans' behavior was good, the pilgrims usually answer that they (American troops) did not do them any harm. Yes they are right because when you cross into, for instance, Divaniya without being stopped and harassed by the American troops, this will make you so happy that you think you were treated well. However, this does not mean good treatment. In the camp where I was kept, I say many pilgrims who had been detained by the Americans without any reasons. Among them were drivers who had carried relief aid into Iraq but were later stopped and arrested on their way back home. For instance, they stopped a car on the road and asked the next car to pass by. But when the passengers of the second car explained that one of their family members were in the first car, they were stopped and detained too. I personally saw these people who had been jailed without any reason.
Q: Did you see people similar to whom you are speaking about in Baghdad?
Q: In prison?
A: We were not kept in a prison as you might think. It was a large tent without any walls. It was like a shade surrounded by barbed wire fences. We were in these camps. Every day, large groups of people entered or left the camp. Every body who arrived at the camp had a number. My number was 11,554. In other words, 11,553 people had already arrived there before me. Most of the jailed Iraqis stayed at the camp for a short period of time, for instance, two days, three days, one week or two weeks. Only a few of them remained in the camp for a long time like us. We were there for around 40 days. On some days, there were between 170 to 180 people in the camp who had to stay inside the tent. There were not enough rooms inside the tent for sleeping, standing or even sitting. We had to stay outdoors under the scorching sunlight in the summer. There were no facilities in the so-called camp. There was only a tent with a plastic floor covering. There was a pit outside the tent which was two meters deep used as a lavatory. One had to bathe with the same water he received for drinking.
Q: What kind of people were jailed in the camp? In other words on what charges were they jailed by the Americans?
A: There were people from various walks of life including ministers of the former regime. I personally saw the former Iraqi minister of commerce whom others knew and show to one another. There were also religious scholars. It may be interesting to mention that there was a huge loudspeaker beside the camp through which they read the camp regulations several times a day. They also broadcast Arabic music from morning till noon. Our camp was adjacent to the Baghdad airport. We could hear the sound of helicopter and airplanes landing at and taking off from the airport every day. In other words, the camp was totally intolerable. Besides lack of water, hot weather, noise and dust there were sand storms. In order to protect ourselves against the sand storms, we had no alternative but to take off our shirts in order to cover our heads. Most of the Iraqis stayed in the camps for two or three days and then left it. The situation there so intolerable and terrible that sometimes we wished we had died. Amid all these hardships, we were taking for interrogation which was sometimes very strange.
Q: What do you mean by strange interrogation?
A: I mean they asked me strange questions that had nothing to do with me and I knew nothing about them.
Q: Did they ask questions regarding political tendencies in Iran?
A: For instance, they questioned about the events taking place in Tehran on July 9, 2003. I said in reply that at that time I was not in Tehran and was in Iraq as they knew.
Q: Did their interrogations follow certain line or consisted of a series of irrelevant questions?
A: There questions covered a wide spectrum of subjects ranging from cinema actors and actresses and copy right to the Badr Corps and other things.
Q: So what? What did they really want to elicit from you?
A: We were journalists and they knew this very well. They intended to solve many of their problems through us. In their opinion, we were not ordinary individuals. Sometimes they asked me certain questions and when they hear me giving a negative reply they said how it was possible for me not to know the answer to their questions. For instance, an interrogator asked how the Iranian youth spent their leisure time. Can you believe this? The same interrogator always raised questions of this type. In reply I said they (Iranian youth) did many things to spend their leisure time such as entertainment and sports. He asked "Do they go to the cinema?" I replied "seldom". He asked "Why?" I answered they watched films on CDs at home because they were much cheaper than cinema tickets. He asked "Why?" I said in reply that because there is no copy right law in Iran. Then he asked some questions about copy rights. He also asked other questions such as how the youth got married in Iran and what was the number of jobless people in the country.
Q: Could you refuse to give a reply to their questions?
A: No. In some cases I sufficed to say I did not know. However, interrogation sessions provided us with good conditions. There was a room with cooler and cold water. In other words, it helped us get rid of hot weather and association with those guys at least temporarily.
Q: Did you hear anything about Iran or that the country was following up you case during your captivity?
A: The first news I heard about Iran was that our case was being followed up (by Iranian officials). I heard the news from an Iranian who had been arrested and brought to the adjacent camp. There was a place near the lavatory near the barbed-wired fence from which one could speak to other persons standing on the other side of the fence in the adjacent camp. One day, he, who had thought I looked like Iranians, asked if I was an Iranian citizen. I replied yes and then introduced myself. He said that he had already seen my name and that of my friends as well as our pictures in Jam-e Jam daily. He inquired about the whereabouts of my friend and I answered I did not know by I guessed he must have been kept in one these camps.
Q: During your captivity, you got to know finally that they (Iranian officials) were after your release. What was your feeling towards the issue at that moment? For instance, didn't you think that you might face the same destiny as the hostages.....?
A: Well, this was always in our mind given tat the Americans often threatened us that we would be released in the next 20 years and so on. This was a possibility we could never rule out even until the day we were freed.
Q: Do you mean you had prepared yourself for such a probability?
A: Yes. We were taken from Baghdad to Umm Qasr where I made a planning for a long term stay there. I had to have a program for spending my time because the situation did not suggest that we should wait for our freedom
Q: Was your situation in Umm Qasr better than in Baghdad?
A: It was much better.
Q: Did they provide you with books, newspapers and magazines in Umm Qasr?
A: No, not at all. I said I was in a better situation but did not say it was ideal.
Q: Did the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) meet you there?
A: When I was in Baghdad, they came for inspection of the whole camp. They took a look at various parts of the camp and spoke to a few persons. But I was pretty sure that they had come there to meet us. They had a form which they wanted to fill up after questioning me. I told that I knew English and asked them to let me to fill it up myself. They allowed me to fill up the form by my own handwriting. Later when my family saw the form they because confident that I was alive and that ICRC representatives had met me.
Q: So, you feeling was different from that of your family here who were worried about the low pace of diplomatic efforts aimed at securing your release. Is it true?
A: The problem was that we had gone missing from the beginning without leaving any trace from ourselves. It was not knows what had happened to us or whether we had had an accident. No body knew our fate or our whereabouts for a long time. Following the measures taken by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting the Foreign Ministry, it was made knows that we had been taken captive by the American troops. Most of these concerns was related to the period when no body knew anything about our fate or whereabouts.
Q: Now that you have released and the issue has come to an end favorably, do you think that those following up your case have fulfilled their duty well?
A: I do not know. It is not me that should answer this question. However, we have been released and no need to say that great efforts have been made to secure our freedom. What is important is our freedom.
Q: Don't you really care about anything now?
A: At present, two things are important to me. One is the release of 54 Iranians who had been jailed with me in Umm Qasr. I am certain that there are other people in prisons in other parts of Iraq. Many families are now calling on me to inquire about the fate of their missing family members such as brothers, fathers or sons. It is very important for me that the case of these Iranians be pursued. The other important matter for me is that the issue of our detention should be pursued from legal point of view. We should be able to bring the Americans to justice for their harsh behavior towards us. We must lodge a complaint with an international tribunal against the Americans who had detained us and kept us under such deplorable conditions without any evidence or proofs. The first benefit of such a legal action is that we will help provide security for journalists. I have told this to foreign reporters. I have told them that I intend to return to Iraq and asked them to cover its related news. This is good for all reporters. That I want to go back to a place where I had been treated so harshly will show that a report's will cannot be defeated by a military power.
Q: Can you return to Iraq? Haven't you been deported from that country?
A: No. They released us. I have my release writ with me. We were not deported but released and they returned to Iran.
Q: Do you really hope to be able to follow up the case legally? The Reuters report was killed and no body could pursue the case. Don't you think the world is not a place good enough to pursue such cases?
A: I have no idea. Our case is different from his case (case of the slain Reuters reporter). In his case, they claim to have made a mistake. But they kept us for four months. I think our case can somehow be pursued from certain points of view. I do not care who had sent me to Iraq. I went there to make a film but the Americans ruined everything.
Q: Of course, your issue has long turned into a national one. Therefore, it is not logical for you to pursue the issue personally.
A: I have no idea. Some people think that the issue must be followed up personally. I, took, think I must pursue the issue by myself.
Q: Well, this is my last question although I am aware it is not easy for you to reply to it. I do not know whether you have every come across this question or not. Is there any difference between Saeed Abutaleb who went to Iran and Saeed Abutaleb who returned home after five months? Is there any difference at all?
A: I do not know. In only know that I am different from the past but I had no idea what has happened to me. Can you imagine what might happen to a person and his mind who had been threatened with death for two weeks? I do not yet know exactly what impacts the four month detention had on my behavior and spirit. But I am certain I have undergone drastic transformations. I am now indifferent towards many things. During the four month period, we lived with least facilities. Now I realize that one can live on nothing and survive and even enjoy oneself. This is one side of the coin. The other side is that other men's expectations from men have changed now. I think the people around me now look at me in a different manner. When I walks on streets everybody greets me.
Q: So you have become famous? Haven't you?
A: This is very agonizing. Yesterday, I went to the University for Talks with students. I was very happy. I have not gone there for many years and it reminded me of the time when I was a college student. I was warmly welcomed. I do not know why I made repetitive remarks. It was useless. This time my audience was carefully listening when I spoke. After my speech they surrounded me and take photos with me. Some of them even asked for my signature. This made me feel ashamed because I was neither an actor not a football player to give my signature to others. What is the use of my signature for them? I do not really know what all these things are about. I am afraid to speak in this manner but to me all these things are ridiculous.
Q: This will finally be over in one or two weeks. What do you think you can get from all these events? Some think that you can finally take advantage of this opportunity.
A: I do not think so. If I become a better documentary film maker, this will be the best way I can benefit from this situation. This is what people expect me to do now. They now expect me to make strange documentary films. I no longer dare to make the same films that I made in the past. This has made my duty more difficult compared to the past though such a difficult task is not bad in itself. Repetition is the main problem facing those making TV programs.
Q: That is all? Do you want to remain a documentary film maker for ever?
A: Not for good. I have thought of making feature films. I have always been longing for making a feature film about the liberation of (southern port city of) Khorramshahr. One who learns to make good documentary films can learn cinema well. This is why I have chosen this profession.
Q: Aren't you going to make a feature film about what has happened to you?
A: I am not sure. Maybe I will do it one day."