Tom Farrey

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Tuesday, April 29
Updated: April 30, 11:58 AM ET
 
Slow justice is no justice

By Tom Farrey
ESPN.com

Sometime later this week, the Ethics Commission of the International Olympic Committee is expected to turn over its findings in the investigation into the Iraqi National Olympic Committee under Uday Hussein. Shortly, the IOC will get around to tell the world what the world already now knows, that Saddam's eldest son abused athletes in ways that violate the Olympic charter, not to mention the laws of humankind.

Iraqi Olympic Comittee
A bomb has left little of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee building, where Uday Hussein ruled over the nation's sports by torturing athletes as incentive to excel.
If the IOC has any integrity, it also will issue an apology for not dealing with this matter sooner.

"I want them to admit they didn't do anything to stop Uday," said Sharar Haydar, a former Iraqi national team soccer player.

For the better part of a decade, rumors circulated that Uday, president of the Iraqi Olympic Committee since 1984, was imprisoning and torturing athletes, Haydar included. The IOC waited until January of this year to launch an investigation, after media reports and a formal complaint was filed by a London-based human rights group, Indict, forced the organization into action.

Since the end of the war, the trickle of testimony and evidence from Iraqi athletes brave enough to speak to Indict and ESPN.com has turned into a torrent. Besides Haydar, other national team soccer players have come forward with horrific tales. Emmanuel "Ammo" Babba, the longtime national coach who led the Iraqis to three Olympics, has said his players were regularly sent to prison, only to return with scars on their backs from being whipped with cables.

The U.S. air attack largely destroyed Iraq's Olympic headquarters in Baghdad where Uday kept a first-floor prison for athletes and others who angered him. Some athletes had hoped the building would be spared because the Iraqis under Hussein, like Nazis under Hitler, were known to document even their worst crimes. The files would have served as historical records.

Tales of torture
Several former Iraqi athletes interviewed for Outside The Lines say they were tortured under orders by Iraqi National Olympic Committee chief Uday Hussein. Three have agreed to tell their own tales of abuse for ESPN.com:

Issam Thamer al-DiwanIssam Thamer al-Diwan: Among Iraqi's most decorated volleyball players and coaches, al-Diwan says he was left shackled and contorted in painful positions for days at the whim of Uday Hussein.

Sharar HaydarSharar Haydar: Imprisoned and tortured after he told INOC officials he planned to retire from the Iraqi national soccer team, Haydar eventually defected to Hungary to escape Uday Hussein's wrath.

Raed AhmedRaed Ahmed: A 12-time Iraqi national weightlifting champion, Ahmed carried his country's flag at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. It was there, after seeing President Clinton applauding, that he decided to defect during the Games.

Still, inside Uday's sports center at the presidential palace, U.S. troops found scores of pages on torture techniques, printed from the Internet. Just 20 yards outside his soccer office -- Uday was head of the nation's soccer federation as well -- and covered up beneath a pile of leaves, looters found an iron maiden. Large enough to contain a grown man, the torture device is a metal closet with long spikes on the inside door that closes to impale its victim.

Time magazine reported that the iron maiden was visibly worn from use, its spikes having lost their sharpness.

After the U.S. bombing, Iraqi citizens dug out 15 women that were trapped in the Iraqi Olympic prison, according to the Iraq Press. All of them, some of whom had refused Uday's sexual advances, were nearly naked. Four of them were dead.

A Baghdad police sergeant came forward to show a Baltimore reporter a second prison that Uday used to punish his subjects. Behind a green door, hundreds of athletes and others were packed together in a room no larger than 35 feet-by-15 feet.

Put it all together, and the IOC has a lot of explaining to do.

"What happened to the Iraqi athletes is as much the fault of the IOC as Uday, because they covered up his crimes," said Issam Thamer al-Diwan, a former volleyball star in Iraq who once served as coach of Uday's personal club volleyball team, Al-Rasheed.

Central to the mission of the IOC is the "protection of athletes," and claims to give a great deal of attention to taking measures when the health of athletes is endangered. The organization fancies itself as an advocate for human rights, and on paper at least, insists on ethical principles by its members.

But with Iraq, the IOC looked the other way, when it might have saved lives by shining a spotlight on the behavior of Saddam's sick son. One could argue that Uday was renegade enough to continue torturing athletes no matter what the IOC did, but international pressure could not have hurt.

Now the IOC cannot even say it tried to improve the situation.

Worse, despite all the evidence and testimony, the IOC does not seem inclined to apologize for failing to live up to its charter.

"I don't understand why (we should)," said Girard Zapelli, special representative to the IOC Ethics Commission. "I'm sorry, but we are not a court. There are lots of international courts that could have done something. The IOC is a sport organization."

Precisely. The IOC did not need the evidence required to take action against Iraq, by threatening to ban the country from participating in the Olympics unless Uday was removed as president of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee.

The IOC, Zapelli said, had nothing to act upon until Indict's formal complaint was filed in December.

"Iraqi athletes (didn't start) sending their letters to us until the end of last year, not in the years before that," she said. "The human rights groups didn't say anything about it, either."

"It's as if McDonald's had a franchise that was poisoning people or the NFL had a franchise that was owned by the mafia. Maybe an apology is asking too much of the IOC at this point. But a financial commitment to rebuild sports in Iraq would go a long ways to make amends."
Charles Forrest,
Indict's chief executive officer
Actually, it was in 1996 that Amnesty International first reported on crimes inside the Iraqi Olympic headquarters when Uday ordered that the hand of a security guard be cut off. Later in the decade, Haydar spoke for the first time about being tortured. More broadly, the United Nations has amply documented Uday's abuse of Iraqi citizens over the years.

Thamer said that in 1995 he began sending letters about Uday's crimes against athletes to the IOC's regional council in the Middle East, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). Thamer said he never received a response from Sheik Ahmad Al-Fahad Al Sabah, who heads both the Kuwaiti Olympic committee and OCA.

All the while, the Olympic rings were displayed on the front of Uday's headquarters.

"It's as if McDonald's had a franchise that was poisoning people or the NFL had a franchise that was owned by the mafia," said Charles Forrest, Indict's chief executive officer. "Maybe an apology is asking too much of the IOC at this point. But a financial commitment to rebuild sports in Iraq would go a long ways to make amends."

Forrest spoke by phone Tuesday from Baghdad, where chaos still reigns. Water and electricity are not working in parts of the city. Playing games is not the highest priority for its citizens right now. But the historical love of sports in that country ensures that Iraq will rise again as a Middle East power in soccer, weightlifting, wrestling and other sports.

When that day comes, the IOC should hope that Iraqi athletes will have offered forgiveness.

Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com.





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