ANDY MCNAB writes on surviving brutal torture in Iraqi jail
Beaten, burned… but unbroken: Battered with a mace, his teeth wrenched out with pliers. ANDY McNAB’s torture in an Iraqi jail would have killed many men
Bravo Two Zero is Andy McNab’s nerve-shredding account of one of the SAS’s most ill-fated — but heroic — missions, undertaken 30 years ago during the Gulf War.
To mark the anniversary, we are printing extracts from the worldwide bestseller.
Yesterday, McNab related how he was captured after being separated from the rest of his unit just short of reaching the safety of the Syrian border.
In the third part of our compelling series, he finds himself helpless in the hands of Iraqi troops…
The Iraqi squaddies hauled me out and dragged me on my back through some gates and into a courtyard. I remained passive.
If you do the hard-man routine, stick your chest out and say f*** you, they’ll fill you in again and that’s counter-productive.
If you appear to be subdued, they’ve got the effect they want. You’ve got to look feeble, as if you’re totally and utterly clueless.
I exaggerated the limp, shivering and coughing, and moaned every time someone got hold of me.
But my mental state was good, and that’s the one you’ve got to worry about and conceal from the enemy.
For a few minutes I stood there with a ring of guards around me.
Andy McNab has shared the shocking ordeal he suffered while being held prisoner in Iraq, as soldiers beat and interrogated him
Then I saw some poor bastard lying on the grass, trussed up on his stomach like a chicken, his ankles and wrists tied together.
His head had swollen up to the size of a football, and his kit was torn and covered in blood.
For a moment he lifted his head. It was Dinger — and the look in his eyes said: it’s going to be all right. I even got a small smile out of him. I grinned back. It was wonderful to see him, to have somebody there to share my predicament.
‘JUST TELL me, Andy, and we’ll send you back to England. What unit are you from?’
My interrogator at the Iraqi military camp was all chummy, making it sound as if he had the power to summon a private jet to whisk me back to Brize Norton.
‘I’m sorry, I cannot answer that question.’
There was no way I was going to tell him I was an SAS sergeant and with my eight-man, long-range patrol — call sign Bravo Two Zero — we had been dropped deep into Iraq to destroy their Scud missile launchers.
Andy McNab’s torture in an Iraqi jail would have killed many men
As the kicks connected with my skull, there was a hissing, popping sound in my ears, and as I clenched my jaw I heard the bones creak together. I felt blood trickle out of my ears and down my face.
I was worried I’d be left permanently deaf. Sh*t, I was only in my early 30s.
‘You must understand, Andy, I have a job to do. Just tell us. We already have this information from your friend, you know. He’s helped us and he’s out there lazing on the grass, he’s still alive, he’s in the sun. We just want to hear it from you.’
That was a lie. I knew they also had my mate Dinger as well as me but he would have told them to eff off.
‘Admit it,’ he said, in the tone of my best friend giving me advice. ‘You are an Israeli, aren’t you?’
‘I’m not an Israeli,’ I sobbed. ‘I’m English. I don’t know what you want from me. Please. I want to help. You’re confusing me. I’m scared.’
My tactic was to be humble — to be a grey man, as we were trained to be in these circumstances — to come over as a cringing and cowering nobody who knew nothing and was just obeying orders.
‘No, no, you’re Israeli. You are dressed like commandos. You’ll die soon, Andy, for being so stupid, for not answering simple questions. We shall have to get this information out of you another way.’
McNab saw one of his comrades’ ‘head had swollen up to the size of a football, and his kit was torn and covered in blood’. Pictured: British soldiers in protective gear during a training exercise in 1991 – the same year McNab was captured
They set at me with rifle butts and one particularly heavy blow caught me on the jaw. I felt my molars crack and splinter and when the pain hit me I was down and screaming my head off.
I tried to spit out the fragments but my mouth was too swollen and numb.
I couldn’t swallow. The moment my tongue touched the sharp, tender stumps I passed out. But how long could I go on like this?
In refusing to answer their questions I wasn’t being all patriotic and brave.
We all had an agreed cover story on why we were in Iraq — that we were a search-and-rescue dropped in to retrieve downed pilots — but I couldn’t come straight out with it.
I had to make it look as if they’d prised it out of me.
It was a matter of self-preservation, not bravado. What I had to do now was give them the least amount of information to keep myself alive.
‘Just tell us what we need to know and that’s it. We’ll organise it for you to go home to your family straight away. There’s no problems, if you help us.’
‘OK,’ I said in a hoarse whisper, wanting to appear utterly done in. ‘I can’t take any more. I’ll help you.’ And I gave them the cover story about the search-and-rescue team. They demanded more information. ‘How many of you were there?’
‘I don’t know. When the helicopter came down there was confusion. Then it just took off and left us.’ For that vague reply, I got another kicking, and pretty soon I was totally out of the game.
I wasn’t exaggerating any more. I was incoherent. I flaked out again and only woke up because a boy was stubbing his cigarette out on my neck.
I must have been dragged from the room and trussed up outside. I heard Dinger’s voice just behind me. They were stubbing cigarettes out on him as well. It was good to hear him, even though he was moaning and groaning.
I couldn’t see him or touch him but I knew he was there. I felt a bit safer. I thought of shouting ‘God Save The Queen!’ to him, but decided it was not a good time. I tried to think of the positives. At least I wasn’t dead. It was now about 12 hours since my capture and I was still alive.
And so my ordeal went on, day after day, night after night. At one point we were driven out onto the streets and exhibited to roaring crowds of people — women with sticks, men with guns or stones, all waving pictures of Saddam Hussein.
‘Down with Bush!’ they chanted, referring to the U.S. president. Kids of ten were letting rip with AK rifles.
Women were scratching and tearing at my skin as the squaddies showed me off like a hunting trophy, pushing my head up, making sure everybody got a good look. Dinger was on the back of another Toyota pick-up. As he drew level we got some eye-to-eye and managed to swap a smile and a wink.
I drew immense strength from this. If he could get through this and grin about it, so could I.
Next time I looked over at him he was grinning from ear to ear, laughing in the face of the mob, taking the mickey out of them!
The men of Bravo Two Zero
- Sgt Andy McNab
- Sgt Vince Phillips
- Corp Chris Ryan
- Lance-Corp ‘Dinger’ Pring
- Trooper Bob Consiglio
- Trooper ‘Legs’ Lane
- Trooper Stan MacGowan
- Trooper Mark ‘Kiwi’ Coburn
Some of these names are pseudonyms
I thought, blow this, we’re on our way to die here, so who cares? I smiled away at the crowd, giving them a big presidential smile.
I wasn’t too worried about the actual dying bit. Never had been; just as long as it was quick and clean.
But they didn’t shoot us. All this was for show. When I went down under a flurry of slaps and scratching from old women, the soldiers moved in and drove us away. The plan must be to keep us alive, as hostages perhaps. In my head I began pacing myself for a long capture, lasting perhaps a couple of years.
THE places I was held in, beaten up in and interrogated in changed until eventually Digger and I ended up in a prison in Baghdad. (I later discovered it was the notorious Abu Ghraib.)
By now we had been handed over from the Iraqi military to a different group of captors, some in suits and looking ominously professional. Secret police probably. I was filled with dread as my thoughts went to horror stories I’d heard of meat hooks in the ceiling and electrodes on the testicles.
When Dinger and I arrived there, we were dragged into a block and thrust into separate tiny cubicles.
There was a gagging stench from a hole in the middle and two porcelain footpads on either side.
My ‘cell’ was a minging sh*t-house. Through the open door I caught sight of Stan.
It was the first time I had seen him since the night he, Chris and Vince had wandered off ahead of the rest of the patrol and we lost contact.
The whole of his head, including his beard, was dark red and matted. His scalp was split open and he was groaning, totally gone.
Now the interrogations became even more brutal.
The pattern was the same. They came for me, blindfolded and handcuffed me, and dragged me off without saying a word. I was sat in a chair and there was complete silence for what seemed like an hour.
Then someone I dubbed The Voice began: ‘Andy, today we want the truth out of you. Why are you in Iraq?’ I went through the same old story, and then guards held me as he slapped me hard.
‘We know that you’re lying because we have your signals operator in hospital, that’s why. He’s been captured and he’s told us everything.’
It was possible. Maybe Legs was still alive, and in his physical condition he might have said anything.
But The Voice hadn’t told me what Legs had said. Was it a bluff?
‘No, I’m not lying,’ I said but they slapped me again and I went down. Then they started to strip me and I had sudden visions of them cutting my manhood off.
They pulled down my trousers. This is it, I thought: this is where they rape me.
Instead they pushed me down on to the chair and held my head forward. I took a deep breath and waited. Whoomph! It must have been a piece of four-by-two or a paddle.
I screamed out like an idiot as they worked their way all over my back and head with it. I was unconscious before I hit the floor.
I came to, groaning and mumbling, and they hoisted me back on the chair.
I then got my first hit with a metallic ball on the end of a stick, like some sort of medieval mace.
It thumped into my neck and arms and kidneys with terrible precision. I went down again, screaming my head off.
This was when I was going to die.
For the next few days, it carried on. Hour after hour, day after day, beating after beating, taking my turn while Digger and Stan lay curled up, cold and in pain, waiting for the terrifying noise of the door being kicked open, the worst sound I had ever heard.
After one session I was sitting on the chair, still naked, my mind a blur of anguish. The Voice talked quietly and conspiratorially in my ear. ‘Andy, we need to talk. You’re in very bad condition.
For the next few days, it carried on. Hour after hour, day after day, beating after beating, taking my turn while Digger and Stan lay curled up, cold and in pain, waiting for the terrifying noise of the door being kicked open, the worst sound I had ever heard. Pictured: Two soldiers look at blazing oil fields set of fire during the first Persian Gulf War
‘You’re going to die very soon, but you’re still not helping us. We’ll get the information out of you, you know we will.
‘One of you will tell us, there’s no big problems. Why make it harder? Do you want me to show you how bad we can be?’
There was a rubbing sore on the inside of my thigh about two inches in diameter. It was a weeping, seeping thing, red and raw. I heard the hiss of a paraffin heater being turned up. Hands gripped my shoulders and pinned me to the chair.
The back of the spoon was red-hot as he ran it over and over the sore. The stench of burning flesh made me gag. I howled like a dog.
I yelled and yelled in an effort to release the pain. ‘Do you see, Andy? It’s pointless. Just tell us what we want to know.’
I refused. Legs had clearly told them nothing. Otherwise they wouldn’t be carrying on with the torture. If he could hold out, so could I.
One time, I was told they were getting a dentist to look at my smashed teeth. ‘Open wide, Andy, please,’ he said in perfect English. ‘Oh, dear, that is bad, but I’ll soon sort it out for you.’
Then he gripped a stump of tooth with pliers and twisted hard. I screamed and blood gushed from my mouth.
The Voice laughed. ‘Why are you doing this to yourself? You’re going through this for nothing. You’re stupid, a stupid, misguided fool, and your teeth are going to come out one by one.’
Outside, Allied planes were bombing Baghdad and I remember lying on the floor listening to the noise and screaming at the top of my voice: ‘Do it! Bomb me! I’m down here!’
I’d had enough. I just wanted the pain to stop. I was slowly dying.
Your body tells you. The cell was awash with my faeces and urine. I slept in it. It covered me. I had reached the lowest point of my life.
One day they came into my cell and shoved a newspaper under my nose with photographs of dead children from the Allied bombings on Baghdad the day before.
They beat me into unconsciousness for that but when I came to they’d left the newspaper behind. The date was February 4. They had been torturing us for five days.
The Voice’s next ruse was to tell me they had two of my men in the hospital.
They were fine, he said, ‘but if you don’t tell us what we need to know, we’ll let them die. It’ll be your fault, Andy. And everyone else will also die because of you. Five men dead, simply because you’re stubborn.’
Back in my cell I went through the options in my mind. As far as I was concerned, we would all be dead in another two days.
Stan probably even before that, going by how he looked. So what it boiled down to was: I was the commander and it was up to me. I had to decide what to do next.
It was a fact that there were three of us in prison. I had to take it as also true that there were two others in hospital.
Dinger had seen Legs being taken away on a stretcher, and there was the possibility that somebody else was also there.
I reasoned that the correct thing to do was to let the interrogators have something more to keep them happy, and in turn keep all of us alive. We’d held out for eight days and that was long enough.
‘I wouldn’t have put it past them to kill the ones in hospital. They’d had a lot of practice at this sort of thing, and it was brutally clear to me that our ordeal was nowhere near over…’ Royal Engineers of the 1st Armoured Division taking cover as live mines explode during a training exercise
I’d keep the SAS out of it, though. There had been no indication that they suspected we were Special Forces. I wanted to keep it that way. The same with our actual mission to destroy Scud missiles.
I asked to see an Iraqi officer and told him: ‘I am a member of a Close Observation Platoon. We were flown on a recce to count the number of military vehicles passing in each direction along the highway.’
I couldn’t tell if he was buying it or not. ‘Why would your battalion want this information?’ the officer asked.
‘Is the British Army planning to invade Iraq?’ (This was a crucial issue at the time. The Allies had forced Saddam’s army out of Kuwait but stopped short of invading Iraq itself. That didn’t happen until the Second Gulf War 12 years later.)
‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘We weren’t told. We’re just the troops on the ground. Need to know basis.’
There was the sound of general agreement to this notion.
The questioning hotted up. How long were you planning to stay in our country? How many of you were there? What are their names?
This was no problem. They already knew there were eight of us. If they indeed had five of us — dead or alive — as they claimed, they’d know our names from our dog-tags. I gave them the information, and they were pleased. Which was good — for now.
After I’d answered their questions, the officer in charge said: ‘Thank you very much, Andy. Things may get better for you now. If we find out you’re lying, they won’t. But I’m glad you have had the sense to help us.’
His words made me question myself. Had I done the right thing? Was I going to be used now? Put on telly as ‘the British lad who helped us’?
Here were my Iraqi captors telling me we were now best friends. It was hard to take. Yet I knew I was right to take their threat as real.
I wouldn’t have put it past them to kill the ones in hospital. They’d had a lot of practice at this sort of thing, and it was brutally clear to me that our ordeal was nowhere near over…
Extracted from Bravo Two Zero by Andy McNab, published by Corgi at £8.99. © Andy McNab 1993. To order a copy for £7.91 (offer valid to March 20, 2021; UK p&p free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193.
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