BAGHDAD — The suspect, named Dheyaa, is surrounded by Iraqi soldiers, an American officer, a translator, and this reporter.
He sits Indian style on the floor against the door of one of the interrogation rooms inside Camp Honor, the headquarters of Lieutenant Colonel Rahim al-Bakri's Iraqi army battalion. He is loosely bound and blindfolded. His voice cracks at times as he answers a barrage of questions about where he has been recently, the numbers found in his cell phone, and his affiliation with Al Qaeda.
Colonel Rahim some 12 hours earlier declared Dheyaa, "Prince of Hatin." In the Baghdad street vernacular, a prince is a man who has beheaded at least 10 people. Hatin is a neighborhood in the battalion's sector, and Colonel Rahim's soldiers have set up an ambush site and traffic checkpoints near its main market. The soldiers who man the ambush point — three concrete slabs atop a small mound of wire-caged earth, what the military calls a "Hesco barrier" — use a nearby doctor's office as a makeshift barracks. Fearing reprisals from Al Qaeda, the doctors have long since departed.
For Colonel Rahim, the capture of the suspected prince was a welcome bit of good news on a relatively bad weekend. The previous day, at a bank in nearby Ahmariya, terrorists kidnapped the younger brother of one of his lieutenants. The incident sparked a series of consultations with the American military transition team advising his battalion and the worry that if they intervened to free the man, they could be choosing between the life of an officer or the officer's younger brother. It turned out the terrorists only wanted the lieutenant to give them cash and make a video apologizing for his decision to join the Iraqi army.
So when Colonel Rahim receives a tip from a member of Iraq's parliament that a small apartment is being used by a high-ranking terrorist as a safe house, he tells me I can sit in on the detention and perhaps even get an interview from the suspect.
When I arrive at the scene, it looks as if the prince is broken.
"Are you scared?" the interrogator, Captain Amjed, asks him.
"I hope to Allah that you will not execute me. I am just trying to run my business." Dheyaa replies.
Captain Amjed says later that most terrorists, when caught, call out to Allah to proclaim their innocence. The suspect repeats that he is a simple worker, a clerk at the Treasury Ministry.
Nonetheless, some details emerge that make me doubt that Dheyaa really is the prince. He is carrying a little over $3 worth of dinars crumpled up in his breast pocket. Terror princes in Baghdad not only behead their victims, they finance the operations that lead to their capture and pay off locals to plant improvised explosives. It seems unlikely that a man of such stature would have barely enough money for a week's worth of groceries.
The suspect's interrogation is paused so a soldier can allow him to sip water. Before the session began he was given a cursory medical exam and photographed to ward off against the specter of beatings or worse.
But while Dheyaa is not touched by the Iraqi military, he is indirectly threatened. Captain Amjed says he will send him to a facility "where they will not treat you like a human being. We will treat you like a human being." Another soldier chimes in that he can fix him some eggplant and a Pepsi, if only he admits to being who they think he is.
When this tactic fails, the soldiers try an Expray test, a chemical spray that purports to detect the residue of explosives. After the test comes up positive for TNT, Captain Amjed crows that he now has evidence that the suspect is the prince.
Faced with the results, Dheyaa points to the ceiling and cries out, "Allah, you know better! Allah, you know better!" But he does not confess to being the prince.
I couldn't tell from the interrogation, but Captain Amjed had his doubts about the suspect from the start. "I didn't think he was the prince when he came willingly to the door at the raid," he said. But Colonel Rahim had received a tip from a member of parliament whose information had been reliable in the past. Intelligence is never a certainty, and Captain Amjed had to make sure.
It turns out that the Expray test often mistakes the residue of cigarette smoke for TNT. The American intelligence officer witnessing the interrogation, Lieutenant Ellison, later tells Major Christopher Norrie — whose Military Transition Team, a 16-man unit that fights along side Colonel Rahim's men every day in the east Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad — that the tests would not be acceptable in America. Captain Amjed decides to tell Colonel Rahim that the prince is really a pauper.
At first, Colonel Rahim appears incredulous. He asks about the Expray test, which he was told earlier had yielded a positive match. But he then returns to his original source, who quickly backs away from the story. "If this is not the man, then why did you tell us he was?" the colonel asks him by phone. The member of parliament says the prince might be Dheyaa's brother.
With the case against the prince in a shambles, Colonel Rahim instructs his soldiers to let Dheyaa go free. Major Norrie is pleased. "You are brave enough and strong enough to make the right decision," he says. Major Norrie recommends that Colonel Rahim apologize to Dheyaa.
Inside the colonel's modest office, which also serves as a bedroom and kitchen, Colonel Rahim wastes no time with Dheyaa, who looks exhausted and bewildered after nearly two hours of questioning. "We are sorry. The information we got about you said you were a very dangerous man. We talked to the guy who gave us this and we know it is false," Colonel Rahim says.
Dheyaa begins to cry. The colonel continues: "Saddam is gone now. We don't build an army on fear now. We heard you were the prince, but the information was wrong. You are one of my brothers."
Colonel Rahim gives Dheyaa his personal cell phone number and both men grip each other in a tight hug. The colonel kisses the subject of his interrogation on both cheeks. Later, his soldiers escort Dheyaa home, but not until after the officer and the treasury clerk have dinner together.
Driving away from Camp Honor, Major Norrie beams. "That was a counterterrorism win for us," he said. "A counterterrorism win."
• A suicide car bomber sent a fireball through a crowded market yesterday in the Shiite holy city of Kufa, killing at least 16 people and threatening further to stoke sectarian tensions in relatively peaceful areas south of Baghdad, the Associated Press reported. At least 68 people were killed or found dead nationwide, more than half of them apparent victims of so-called sectarian death squads usually run by the Shiite militias. Twenty-five of the bullet-riddled bodies were found in Baghdad, all but five on the predominantly Sunni western side of the Tigris River where sectarian violence appears to be on the rise.
• Vice President Cheney departed yesterday on a weeklong mission to the Middle East that administration officials said would focus largely on the next steps in Iraq, the AP reported. Mr. Cheney's first stop will be Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Other announced stops include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. He also will visit the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf.