Held for Murder in Kuwait- Part 2

Insignia of the Kuwaiti Police Force
Insignia of the Kuwaiti Police Force
(Click here to read Part 1 and the events before the Kuwaiti police station.)

To their credit (I suppose), the police let me drive us to the Salwa station in my car. The first thing that I did was contact the duty officer at the US Embassy who, that night, happened to be Dick Wilbur, the assistant public affairs officer. Dick promised to get somebody down to help us as soon as he could.

It was about 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening, and the station house was bustling. Kuwaitis love to do their chores and shopping at night, when the temperature is something less than 120 degrees. And apparently that was a good time to visit the police station.

As soon as we stepped inside, the lieutenant directed us to sit on a bench. We waited for some time; I can’t really remember how long. Other things were happening. A drunken Egyptian laborer was brought in. They put him in a holding cell down the corridor from where we sat. After a few minutes, he began shouting and screaming, for what, I don’t know. Finally, just when I was about to go down there and see what he wanted, a Kuwaiti police sergeant walked past us, slapping a billy club against his hand. Seconds later, I heard

It wasn’t so bad, up until the police brutality...
It wasn’t so bad, up until the police brutality…
him say something in Arabic to the Egyptian. The cell door opened with a screech, there was a dull thwack, and then the thud of a body hitting the floor. We heard no more from the Egyptian that night.

Perhaps an hour into our stay at the station, a stocky Egyptian in a business suit came bustling in. He took one look at us and frowned, then turned into an office. The police lieutenant joined him. After a few minutes, the Egyptian came out, motioned for Susan, and once she was inside, shut the door. I was left sitting on the bench. I got up to stretch my legs and wandered over to a bulletin board. It was decorated with photos of Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation, primarily of depredations by the Iraqis. I felt for the Kuwaitis; I really did. But you can only stare at photos of such things for so long.

After Susan had been in that office for about an hour, the Egyptian came strutting out and crooked his finger at me. Since I don’t remember his name at all, we’ll call him Nasser. It seems that Nasser was the combination prosecutor/investigator assigned to the case. His English was excellent.

“I want you to come with me back to the scene and walk me through what happened,” he said.

“What about Susan?”

“We are not finished with her yet. Please, come.”

I was a little hesitant. No one from the embassy had shown up yet. I wasn’t familiar with Kuwaiti law, but I knew one thing – they had no “Bill of Rights” and it was listed as a police state. So, I really had no choice. Cooperation seemed the better part of valor.

Sure, blame the Doctor, he’s not here to defend himself...
Sure, blame the Doctor, he’s not here to defend himself…
Off we went. Once at the apartment, I took him through the events. I explained very carefully that I was the only one in the room with Ahmed when he tried his flying act. I pointed out the Dr. Pepper can that Ahmed had been sipping and sniffing out of. They took that for evidence, but when I suggested to Nasser that they fingerprint the balcony railing (knowing that they would find only Ahmed’s), he just laughed and ignored me. That wasn’t very reassuring.

And presto chango, we were back in his car and off to the police station.

While we were gone to the scene of the crime, a Kuwaiti lawyer on retainer with the embassy had shown up to represent us. I was directed back to the bench, and Nasser and our lawyer disappeared into the office.

I didn’t see any of them for three more hours. I heard Susan crying, but every time it looked like I was headed for that office door, a Kuwaiti officer would frown at me and tap his palm with his night stick. I took my cue from the drunken Egyptian and stayed put.

It was approaching midnight by this time, and, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what was taking so long. Finally, the door opened, and Susan emerged, literally shaking, tears sending her make-up streaming down her face. The embassy lawyer had his arm around her, guiding her to my bench. Nasser, once again, crooked his finger at me. My turn.

A night is not a night until the interrogation...
A night is not a night until the interrogation…

After seeing the effects of Susan’s interview on her, I was a little concerned. But, I took a deep breath and entered the lion’s den. Only, it wasn’t the lion’s den. The mood was light. Nasser treated me like an old friend. I wondered, briefly, if this was some Arab version of good cop/bad cop. But, no, it seemed to be genuine. I was simply asked to once again give my version of events. No rubber hoses. No trick questions. No browbeating. I was in and out in 30 minutes. I’ve got to admit; I was baffled as to what had taken four hours with Susan.

When I exited, Susan was still sitting on the bench, crying softly. The embassy lawyer came up and drew me into a corner.

“Here’s the deal. This guy gave them three different stories. First he told them that you threw him off the balcony. Then he said that Susan did. Then, just before he went into surgery, he told them that you were both drunk and threw him off together. They did a blood test on him, and he had so much of that stuff he was sniffing in his blood stream that he should have been dead. Also, he has one previous arrest for attempted rape and one for attempting suicide (a felony in Kuwait). Turns out that he’s an outpatient at the mental hospital and went off his medication.”

“Great,” I said. “Then we can get out of here.”

The lawyer frowned. “Not quite yet. Since he claims that you two were drinking

And then there was the part with the needle...
And then there was the part with the needle…
they want you to go over to the police lab for a blood test. That’s not a problem, is it?”

I checked my watch. It was after 1:00 am by then. “We had a couple of drinks back around 5:00 pm. There should be only a trace left by now.”

“Look, this is a headache for the investigator that he doesn’t need. You were smart to immediately call the embassy. You’ll be helping him out by doing the blood test. He can write this up and get it off of his desk.”

So, I collected Susan and we followed a police car to the other side of Kuwait City to the police lab, which was in the nastiest basement I’ve ever seen. But, by then, it was 2:30 in the morning, and I figured that our blood was pretty clean.

But I also found out why it had taken four hours to interview Susan. First, they made her give her statement in Arabic. She was fairly fluent in spoken Arabic, but not enough to be giving an official police statement. (I was allowed to give mine in English.) Her statement was written up in Arabic, and she was forced to sign it even though she couldn’t read Arabic. (Mine was written up in English.) And they hammered her repeatedly, trying to get her to say that she enticed Ahmed up to her apartment, that they had had a previous relationship. In short, they spent four hours trying to prove that she was responsible for the whole thing, that she had lured him up there. Such is the price of being an attractive American blond in an Arab country.

And that was it. We were free after the blood test. Two days later we went with the embassy lawyer and an American vice consul to a judicial building where the whole case was dropped. Ahmed’s father, a nice man, apologized to Susan and I for what his son had done. I felt bad for him.

On a brighter note, I saw the Egyptian drunk at that same building that day. Other than a huge bruise above his eye, he looked none the worse for wear. Handcuffed, he was laughing and joking with the same police sergeant that had decked him.

I learned something that night though. In the Arab world, men are innocent until proven guilty. Women are guilty until proven innocent.

images courtesy of Pahz, cbmd, and James Cridland.

Tony Hays, author of The Beloved Dead.


  1. catbirdinkorea

    You are so right in your final comment, Tony:
    In the Arab world, men are innocent until proven guilty. Women are guilty until proven innocent.

    So, so true!

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