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Monday, January 20
Updated: January 21, 2:12 PM ET
 
Saddam's oldest son accused of torturing athletes

ESPN.com news services

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- The IOC is investigating accusations that Saddam Hussein's oldest son, the head of Iraq's Olympic association, tortured and jailed athletes.

"We've received the complaint and we're dealing with it," IOC ethics commission official Paquerette Girard Zappelli said. She said she could not comment further while the inquiry was under way.

Blood on the Rings
Iraq was once the athletics mecca of the Middle East, but it has languished under the heavy hand of Uday Saddam Hussein. In a supposed attempt to inspire his athletes to new greatness, the head of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee allegedly has imprisoned some, tortured others and executed dozens more since 1984, an ESPN.com investigation revealed in December.

Among several former Iraqi athletes who claim they were tortured under orders by Hussein, three agreed to tell their own tales of abuse for ESPN.com:

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.

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.

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.

  • See dossier of allegations by Iraqi athletes against Uday Hussein.
  • Indict, a London-based human rights group, lodged a complaint in December demanding that the IOC expel the Iraqi National Olympic Committee. Citing witness statements by exiled Iraqi athletes and United Nations reports, Indict said the Iraqi committee was in violation of the IOC's ethics code.

    An ESPN investigative report last month also described widespread abuses at the Iraqi Olympic headquarters, where Uday Hussein allegedly keeps a special prison for athletes and others who offended him. The ESPN report included first-hand accounts of torture by prominent former soccer and volleyball players, and was followed by calls for action from Amnesty International and several IOC members.

    The latest IOC member to add her voice to the issue is Australia's Susie O'Neill, a recently retired swimmer and two-time gold medalist. O'Neill told ESPN.com she supports an IOC investigation into the matter, despite mixed feelings about the outcome of any probe.

    "It is an absolutely dreadful situation, but what is the best solution?" O'Neill said. "To ban Iraq from the Olympic games means the athletes will be punished more by not being able to compete in sport, and at a guess would probably still be tortured. To not do anything also is very heartless."

    O'Neill, who was elected to the IOC in 2000 by fellow athletes, also questions how much cooperation investigators are going to get from Iraqi officials and athletes. Those athletes who have offered their testimony to the IOC are all former national team members now living outside the country.

    "I am sure nothing would be discovered as athletes who still lived in Iraq would be too scared to say anything," she said. "Publicizing the situation, I think, is good -- if only to make the Iraqi (Olympic committee) aware that people know what they are doing."

    Besides the torture of athletes, the Iraqi committee also participated in the looting of Kuwait during Saddam's 1990-91 occupation of that country, storing the stolen goods at the Olympic headquarters in Baghdad, according to athletes and officials who spoke to Indict and ESPN.

    Indict, which receives three-quarters of its funding from the U.S. Congress, was set up in 1997 to try to get Saddam and leading members of his regime brought before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.

    In the past, the IOC rarely has taken action against national Olympic committees. Most notably, the IOC suspended South Africa for its policies on apartheid, and Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of that country.

    The IOC Ethics Commission was set up in 1999 in the wake of a bribery and corruption scandal that engulfed the Salt Lake City winter games. The commission is chaired by Keba Mbaye of Senegal, and its members include U.S. track star Edwin Moses and former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.

    Information from ESPN.com senior writer Tom Farrey and The Associated Press was used in this report.




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