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Freed Iranians accuse US of torture

Melbourne Age

Two Iranian journalists with state-run television who were freed by US forces in Iraq after four months of detention have charged they were subjected to "severe torture" while in American custody.

But in Baghdad a coalition military spokesman denied that anyone was mistreated in its custody.

"The detention was unimaginable. The first 10 days were like a nightmare. We were subjected to severe torture," Saeed Abou Taleb told state television as he and his freed colleague Sohail Karimi crossed back into Iran.

"The other four months were terrifying. I would rather not remember it. It was very bad, very bad," he said as the pair were greeted at the southern Iranian border post of Shalamcheh, near the Iraqi city of Basra.

He did not elaborate on the allegation of torture, which the coalition spokesman in Iraq rejected out of hand saying: "The coalition does not mistreat anyone in its custody -- full stop."

Karimi only made a brief comment, describing their treatment as "harsh, terrible".

However he said on Wednesday, when Iran marks the anniversary of the 1980 storming of the US embassy in Tehran and the start of the hostage crisis, he would "shout 'Death to America' even louder".

The two journalists work as documentary filmmakers for Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), and were arrested on July 1 in the town of Kut, southeast of Baghdad, after being spotted filming a US base.

Coalition sources had suggested the pair may have been spying, although IRIB says the two were merely making a film on the life of the Iraqi people.

They were later transferred to Diwaniyah, and then to Baghdad, before being handed over to British troops in Um Qasr prison, southern Iraq, and then released, the state news agency IRNA said.

State television carried pictures of the pair being greeted by a large crowd of officials, colleagues and family members. Although sporting a wreath of flowers around their necks, both journalists were visibly thinner and exhausted by their 126 days in detention.

Abou Taleb said the pair had been filming in an unrestricted area, and added that a US officer had even apologised to them before they were released and admitted their arrest had been a mistake.

"It was not a restricted area. We had full authorisation from the responsible US officer to film the area," Abou Taleb said.

"After 48 hours of detention and after they were sure we were documentary filmmakers and they had looked at our films, the torture and the harassment began," he said.

"In our last interrogation, which happened a week or 10 days ago, they themselves said it was a mistake by the soldier or officer who arrested us. And I told them that this mistake could have been solved after three days, not four months," the journalist said.

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