BAGHDAD (AP) – The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush says he would do it again and that he was forced to write a letter of apology after being tortured in jail, the journalist’s brother claimed Monday.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi’s outburst during a Dec. 14 news conference with Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been repeatedly broadcast worldwide, making him a symbol for opponents of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thousands of Iraqis have rallied to demand his release.
Al-Zeidi’s trial on charges of assaulting a foreign leader is to begin Dec. 31, said Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, a spokesman for the Iraqi Higher Judicial Court. A conviction could bring up to two years in prison.
The prime minister’s office said last week that al-Zeidi had written a letter of apology and asked al-Maliki to recommend a pardon. But his brother, Uday al-Zeidi, told The Associated Press that the letter was written against the journalist’s will.
“He told me that he has no regret because of what he did and that he would do it again,” Uday al-Zeidi said by telephone. He said he visited his brother in jail on Sunday and found him with a missing tooth and cigarette burns on his ears.
Muntadhar al-Zeidi told his brother that jailers also doused the journalist with cold water while he was naked, Uday al-Zeidi said.
The investigating judge in the case has said that the journalist was beaten around the face and eyes when he was wrestled to the ground after throwing the shoes. “The thing that makes you cry and laugh at the same time is that when the prime minister said that that my brother was not tortured and will not be tortured, he was under severe torture by security authorities,” he said.
“When I saw him yesterday, there were bruises on his face and body. He told me that they used an iron bar to hit him when they took him out of the press conference room. He told me that he began screaming and thought all those at the press conference would have heard his voice,” Uday al-Zeidi told Associated Press Television News.
But Bayrkdar, the court spokesman, said that when the investigating judge took al-Zeidi’s statement last week he “did not ask to be checked by a medical committee and did not say that he was tortured during the investigation.”
Meanwhile, the prime minister claimed that al-Zeidi said in the letter that a known terrorist had induced him to throw the shoes.
“He revealed … that a person provoked him to commit this act and that person is known to us for slitting throats,” al-Maliki said, according to the prime minister’s Web site. The alleged instigator was not named.
The premier also said that his government remains “committed to protecting the journalist in performing his professional duty” and guarantees him the right to practice his profession “on condition that he does not violate the dignity of others.”
Neither Bush nor al-Maliki have sought charges, but investigating judge Dhia al-Kinani said last week he does not have the legal option to drop the case.
Also Monday, an intelligence officer and a policeman were killed in separate attacks, police said. The intelligence officer was killed in Basra by a small bomb attached to his car as he drove to work while the policeman died in a grenade and machine-gun attack on a checkpoint 22 miles (35 kilometers) south of Fallujah, police officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to news media.