Monday June 12, 2017

'That is not humanity': Photojournalist describes torture and abuse by Iraqi army

Photojournalist Ali Arkady's project was to be a portrait of a new and unified Iraq fighting the good fight against ISIS.

Photojournalist Ali Arkady's project was to be a portrait of a new and unified Iraq fighting the good fight against ISIS. (Ali Arkady/VII Agency Mentor Program)

Listen 14:21

Read Story Transcript

Warning: This segment contains disturbing content.

Ali Arkady, an award-winning Iraqi photojournalist, who had to go into hiding after witnessing Iraqi soldiers committing atrocities, is speaking out about his experience.

Arkady says he is still coming to terms with the trauma of what he's seen.

"It's very hard every time I come back to see the videos," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, speaking from an undisclosed location.

In 2016, Arkady was embedded with an Iraqi special forces unit as they fought to retake Mosul from ISIS control.

'It's very hard every time I come back to see the videos.' - Ali Arkady, Iraqi photojournalist in hiding

His plan at the outset was to feature a captain from the Sunni sect of Islam and a corporal from the Shia sect working together, across sectarian lines, as part of the Iraqi military's Emergency Response Division. The project was to be a portrait of a new and unified Iraq fighting the good fight against ISIS.

Related: Iraqi photographer on the run for chronicling country's war crimes

"I saw them like heroes," he says.

But the more the soldiers in the division got to know and trust Arkady, the more they showed him. And soon, he was witnessing them committing gruesome acts of torture and the killing of civilians. 

Iraq torture

Arkady took photos and video footage of atrocities the Iraqi military committed against civilians. (Ali Arkady/VII/Redux)

According to Arkady, some soldiers in the unit also falsely accused civilian men of being ISIS supporters — as an excuse to remove them from their homes so that they could return later and sexually assault their wives.

"They said, 'Okay, [in] this house they have a beautiful woman' ... They will make [a] plan to do something in the future, to go back to the house and do a rape or something," he explains.

Arkady took photos and video footage of some of the atrocities. He said there were times when he wanted to stop, but he also wanted to continue to gather information about the abuses that were being committed.

'Torturing people and killing people —  that is not humanity.' - Ali Arkady, Iraqi photojournalist in hiding

"It was very, very hard," he tells Tremonti, adding it took him awhile to realize the toll the experience was having on him.

Finally, he had to flee after his family received death threats.

Arkady's photos and videos were first published by the Toronto Star and ABC News in May. 

Belkis Wille

Human Rights Watch researcher Belkis Wille says Arkady's photos and videos need further investigation. (Belkis Wille)

Human rights experts say they warrant further investigation.

Related: In fight against ISIS, Iraqi army committing 'gravest of abuses' with impunity: expert

"These are the gravest of abuses that you can see in the context of an armed conflict or even in peace time," Belkis Wille, a senior Iraq researcher for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, told Tremonti in an earlier interview that aired on June 5.

"What he showed with his photo and video evidence are executions of individuals without having gone through any judicial process ... extreme acts of torture against these individuals in order to try and force confessions, or in some cases simply what looked like acts of revenge or retribution." 

Arkady says simply: "Torturing people and killing people — that is not humanity."

Listen to their conversation at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Samira Mohyeddin.