Tariq Ramadan has been accused of being one of the pilots who attacked the Kurdish city of Halabja with chemical weapons in March 1988, killing more than 5,000. He was detained in February 2005. In October 2007 he vanished from custody. Questions have arisen about whether or not he escaped from custody or was released.
Ramadan and family ended up in exile, as refugees. He contacted the EuroKurd Human Rights (EHR) group, based in Sweden, to tell his side of the story.
EHR talked with him about the accusations and his detention. I have read through the documents on the EHR website and summarised his interview below. If you want to read the full interview, you can access it in English, Swedish, or Kurdish from the EHR website. Here is a copy in Kurdish (Ramadan letter to EHR) of the letter Ramadan sent to EHR, in which he makes four points: He says 1) that he was kidnapped rather than arrested, 2) he is innocent of all charges and has evidence to prove it. The confession he gave was coerced under torture, 3) the Asayish couldn’t find anything at all against him, but he was still tortured, and 4) he didn’t escape, but was released by order of Mam Jalal (President Jalal Talabani). The letter is signed and dated 08 April 2009.
Tariq Ramadan is a Turkomen of Arab origin. He is a fully qualified interceptor pilot, who later became a flight instructor after sustaining severe injuries after ejecting from his aircraft in December 1984. These injuries basically sidelined him from flying again.
In September 2004 Ramadan began working for the Parsons Corporation on the Kirkuk Airbase. According to its website, Parsons provides technical and management solutions to federal, regional and local government agencies as well as private industries worldwide. On 03 February 2005 Ramadan was handcuffed by two US officers at the base and handed over to the Asayish. The Asayish is one of four units that make up the Parastin, the KRG security forces. Asayish officers blindfolded and gagged Ramadan and shoved him into the trunk of a waiting car. He was taken to the Asayish Gishti Prison (General Security) in Suleimaniyeh.
In prison, he says, he was beaten and tortured. He was blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back, punched until he lost consciousness, beaten on his toes with cables, and subjected to various forms of psychological torture. Ramadan eventually ‘confessed.’ The courts have ruled the confession inadmissible.
In late May 2005, some four months after his detention, he was visited by an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) representative. This was Ramadan’s first contact with the outside world since his detention. He was allowed to craft a short message to his family, which was delivered to them through the ICRC rep.
But Ramadan would remain in custody for many long months afterwards. It wasn’t until 28 October 2007 (996 days after being detained) that he was released. And herein lies the major divergence of the accounts regarding the end of his detention.
Original reports suggest he escaped from a hospital where he had been admitted after a prolonged hunger strike. Reports now show that he was released on orders from Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Ramadan says in his interview that he was called into the office of then Asayish Directorate General Saif al-Den Ali Ahmed who said to Ramadan, ‘Congratulations Tariq, Mam Jalal has ordered me to set you free.’ Saif al-Den requested first that Ramadan cut his hair and shave his beard. In front of the court and the media, Saif al-Den has vehemently denied that he received orders from Talabani to release Ramadan.
While Ramadan and his family are now refugees in Sweden, he still stands accused of the attacks on Halabja. Ramadan states emphatically that in 1988 he wasn’t flying due to his previous injuries. Also he says that the logbooks show he wasn’t flying the weekend the Halabja attack occurred.
He said too he would love to be able to clear his name and prove both his innocence and that he was the victim of a gross and deliberate miscarriage of justice. He says he does not know what charges against him may still be outstanding but he has heard that the Iraqi High Tribunal Court has ordered the Asayish to close the case against him. He adds that everyone there has been betrayed and deceived by corrupt politicians, leaders and the Asayish who continue to exploit the tragedy of Halabja for their own ends.
Swedish-Kurdish journalist Gabar Çiyan and British photographer and journalist Gary Trotter interviewed Tariq Ramadan. See the EHR website for more information and a list of documents.