Iraq Journal: The Dungeon of Fallujah

Michael J. Totten is an independent journalist reporting on the war in Iraq. Here is a portion of his latest journal entry provided exclusively for

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“This is not Norway here, and it is not Denmark.” – Lebanese Forces militia leader Bashir Gemayel.

Next to the Joint Communications Center in downtown Fallujah is a squalid and war-shattered warehouse for human beings. Most detainees are common criminals. Others are captured insurgents – terrorists, car-bombers, IED makers, and throat-slashers. A few are even innocent family members of Al Qaeda leaders at large. The Iraqi Police call it a jail, but it's nothing like a jail you've ever seen, at least not in any civilized country. It was built to house 120 prisoners. Recently it held 900.

“Have you seen that place yet?” one Marine said. “It is absolutely disgraceful.”

“The smell,” said another and nearly gagged on remembering. “God, you will never forget it.”

I hadn't seen or smelled it yet, but I was about to.

“Come on,” American Marine Sergeant Dehaan said to me. “Let's go take a look.”

I picked up my notebook and camera.

“Leave the camera,” he said. “The Iraqis won't let you take pictures.”

“Don't you have any say in it?” I said. This was the first and only time during my trip to Fallujah that somebody told me not to take pictures.

“Nope,” he said. “The jail is completely run by Iraqis. They'll freak out if you show up with that camera. If it were up to me, yeah, you could take 'em. But it's not.”

If the Marines wouldn't mind if I took pictures, I think it's safe to say the No Photograph policy is not a security measure. The Iraqis, it seems, don't want you to see what I saw.

Sergeant Dehaan and I were joined by Rich Crawford, a civilian Law Enforcement Professional who works with the Marines and helps them train the Iraqi Police.

“It's bad in there,” he said as we walked toward the jail. “But I've seen worse.”

“Where have you seen worse?” I said. He looked like someone who had been around. The hard lines in his face looked as though they were carved by sobering experience as much as by time.

“In Latin America,” he said. “In Colombia. I was a DEA agent there. The jail here is bad, and it might be the worst you'll ever see. But you need to know it isn’t the worst in the world.”

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