Moroccan Soldier Describes Decades of Imprisonment
SCOTT SIMON, host:
Five men who had the tragic distinction of being among the world's longest-held prisoners of war came to Washington, DC, this week to thank the people who helped them gain their freedom. For more than 25 years, the Algerian-backed Polisario rebels, who were fighting Morocco's annexation of the western Sahara, kept hundreds of captured Moroccan soldiers imprisoned in conditions that were widely denounced but, in the end, tolerated by most of the world. The final 404 prisoners were just released this August after Senators John McCain, Richard Lugar and Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart of Florida brought world attention to their plight. Lieutenant Ali Al Jaouhar(ph) spent 23 years in prison and he joins us in our studios.
Lieutenant, thank you very much for being with us.
Lieutenant ALI AL JAOUHAR (Prisoner of War): I thank you.
SIMON: When did you get out finally?
Lt. JAOUHAR: I get out last year.
SIMON: So you were captured and taken to this infamous prison site.
Lt. JAOUHAR: We were taken to hell, better than prison.
SIMON: Yeah. I can think of no more ingenious way of asking than what was it like inside?
Lt. JAOUHAR: We were beaten by them, wires, electric wires, braided electric wires. We were beaten by them. A friend of mine was set on fire in front of me. Another man was put in a cement mixer and was smashed.
SIMON: Did your family know that you had been captured?
Lt. JAOUHAR: Yes, but...
SIMON: Could you have any communication with any of them?
Lt. JAOUHAR: No. Fifteen years, we receive no letters. We were forced to give propaganda against our country. My wife died while I was there in that hell.
SIMON: You know, there are American prisoners of war, say, in World War II, who were held four or five years, but 23 years is amazing and stupefying. There must have been times when you told yourself that you would never get out.
Lt. JAOUHAR: That's right. That's right. We happen to lose hope and to fell into despair and we come across a book written by Hemingway, "The Old Man and the Sea." And when I wanted to take a rest, I read every time part of it. It helped me a lot.
SIMON: What spoke so powerfully to you about that book?
Lt. JAOUHAR: That man who strives and struggles even, let's say, the circumstances, all the circumstances were against him.
Lt. JAOUHAR: This breath, which he never loses, is the most important thing in the book. This is faith.
SIMON: You still read "The Old Man and the Sea"?
Lt. JAOUHAR: I drink this book. I read it once and once again.
SIMON: What happened when you got out? What life did you come back to?
Lt. JAOUHAR: I was fond of white shirts.
Lt. JAOUHAR: The new woman I have just married told me, `Why are you obsessed with the white?' Because she didn't knew. We were frustrated from cleanness.
Lt. JAOUHAR: We were never clean. We had had difficulties in adapting because we lived there like primitives. So I had difficulty in adapting with my daughter.
SIMON: How old was your daughter when you were captured?
Lt. JAOUHAR: She was eight months.
SIMON: And you came home to a 24-year-old woman.
Lt. JAOUHAR: A 23 years old after.
Lt. JAOUHAR: Now she has got a little baby. I didn't saw her grow.
SIMON: You have a granddaughter now?
Lt. JAOUHAR: Yes.
SIMON: Well, you have a chance with your granddaughter.
Lt. JAOUHAR: Yes.
SIMON: Lieutenant, thank you very much.
Lt. JAOUHAR: My pleasure, Monsieur Scott.
SIMON: Former prisoner of war Ali Al Jaouhar who's now living back in a small village in Morocco. He hopes to write a book about what he went through.