At midnight on April 1, without warning, a group of men led by Mr. Muthanna, identifying themselves as intelligence agents, broke into my room at the Palestine Hotel. The men, in suits and ties, at least one with a holstered pistol under his jacket, said they had known “for a long time” that I was an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency, that I was from that moment under arrest, and that a failure to “cooperate” would lead to more serious consequences.
“For you, it will be the end,” Mr. Muthanna said. “Where we will take you, you will not return.”
The men gathered up all the equipment belonging to me and to Tyler Hicks, a staff photographer of The New York Times, including four laptop computers, a satellite telephone, two cameras and a printer, and then demanded money, taking $6,000 from a plastic zip-lock bag. Then they left, ordering me to remain in my room until “more senior” intelligence men arrived.
He, obviously, survived. But the Iraqi reaction he recounts is just as telling as Burns’s experience:
To many Iraqis who heard of the experience, it was unexceptional, save for the fact that I suffered no physical harm. For years, Mr. Hussein’s security agents had been breaking into Iraqis’ homes, arresting people at will, and taking them away to the gulag of torture centers and prisons. Some emerged weeks, months, or years later, many of them disfigured, with eyes gouged out, hands and fingers mangled. But tens of thousands never returned, dying under torture, or being summarily executed.
The anguish of their families, lining up to wave photographs and shout names at American troops guarding the now abandoned interrogation centers and prisons, has been among the most distressing scenes since the fall of Mr. Hussein. For them, there is unlikely to be any of the catharsis that came at the Palestine Hotel in the 12 hours before the marines arrived.