What Happened to the U.S. Citizen Held at Abu Ghraib Prison Until it Closed?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Shawki Omar (AP photo)

An American citizen held prisoner in Iraq for 10 years has disappeared following the closure of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.


Earlier this month, the Iraqi government shut down Abu Ghraib, which became famous in the early days of the U.S. occupation once reports surfaced of widespread torture of prisoners by U.S. military and intelligence personnel.


About 2,400 inmates held at Abu Ghraib were reportedly transferred to other prisons in Iraq.


But the whereabouts of Shawki Ahmed Omar, an American-Jordanian prisoner, have been unknown since the prison’s shuttering on April 15.


Omar was first captured by the U.S. military in 2004, along with his wife, Sandra, for alleged terrorism ties. The 54-year-old man was shuttled between American detention centers in Iraq, during which he claimed he was tortured.


His wife also says she was tortured during her imprisonment. She was eventually released and returned to the U.S.


But Omar remained in custody in Iraq, where, in 2010, he was brought to trial in a case that had no charges listed against him. His passport having been confiscated by the U.S. military, he was unable to contest a claim that he had entered the country illegally. He was consequently convicted on that charge and received a 15-year prison sentence, which was reduced to seven years following an appeal to the Iraqi Supreme Court.


As of 2014, Omar had remained behind bars for 10 years. Iraqi authorities claimed the time he spent in American custody did not count toward his sentence. They also warned that he would be tried again based on terrorism-related charges that first surfaced in 2005.


For now, no one knows if Omar is alive or dead. His family has been unable to get any information from the Iraqi government or U.S. officials on where Omar is.


Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, Omar relocated to the U.S. in 1980 to study electrical engineering. He eventually became a U.S. citizen, married Sandra and had six children.


After persuading his Christian wife to convert to Islam, Omar moved his family to Jordan in 1995 so his children could learn Arabic and grow up in an Islamic environment. Once there, he became increasingly devout and took two additional wives. He then entered Iraq following the U.S. invasion to seek construction work, according to CAGE, an independent advocacy organization opposed to the U.S. war on terror.


The U.S. military claims that, in taking his second wife, Omar married into the family of terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi. They also claim that, in 2004, multinational forces found and arrested four Jordanian jihadists and an Iraqi insurgent in Omar’s home, who implicated Omar in a kidnapping plot.


Sandra insists they are trumped-up allegations forced out of Omar’s alleged colleagues under duress. “This is the kind of faulty intelligence you get when you torture people," she told CBS/AP.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

American Abu Ghraib Prisoner "Disappears" (by Aisha Maniar, Truthout)

Shawki Omar, U.S. Citizen Held in Iraq Prison, Abused and Discriminated against, Wife Claims (CBS News/Associated Press)

Shawki Omar Ahmed (CAGE)


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