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Home at last

Felix Chaudhary
Saturday, December 31, 2011

MARK Fisher is never going back to Iraq. Eighteen days of mental torture at the hands of the Iraqi military and the real threat of being executed at any time still replays through his mind.

Mr Fisher, who was freed by the Iraqi military after US intervention and flew home on Thursday, said he thought his life was over when soldiers ordered him and his team to kneel facing a wall and to put their hands behind their heads.

"I thought, 'this is it'. The only thoughts going through my head were non-stop prayers. No amount of money is worth going through what happened to me and my team and no amount of training can ever prepare a person for what we experienced," he said in the safety of his Votualevu home in Nadi yesterday.

Despite being set free on December 27, after spending Christmas in an Iraqi military cell, Mr Fisher has trouble sleeping.

The former Republic of Fiji Military Forces sergeant began working in 2009 as a contractor with Triple Canopy Incorporated รน a private company contracted by the US State Department to remove military equipment from forward operating bases (FOB) in Iraq after the US military pullout.

"That's what we were doing when we got detained. We had just cleared a FOB when we were stopped five minutes down the road and taken to a military camp. Our captors said they had to make sure that we had the authority to remove the equipment we had with us," the 41-year old explained.

"As far as we were concerned, we had the green light and the appropriate clearance to do so but the Iraqis thought otherwise."

During the ordeal, Mr Fisher and his team of seven men, which included Americans and Iraqi nationals, were ordered to eat food that was thrown on the floor.

"We refused to eat it because the cell was filthy. Instead we ate fruits and bribed some of the soldiers to give us chocolates," he said.

Although their phones were confiscated, Mr Fisher said a colonel, who was sympathetic towards them after experiencing being detained by Saddam Hussein's regime, allowed them the use of his telephone to contact friends and relatives.

"The Americans called their embassy but I called my wife, Mariah and informed her of what had happened," said Mr Fisher.

Mrs Fisher said she grew concerned after not hearing from her husband for a few days.

"We normally communicate via texting and when I hadn't received anything from him for a few days, I knew something was up. When he called and told me he was detained and no one from Triple Canopy had come to see him and his men, I got really angry," she said.

When she was finally contacted by Triple Canopy, an official said Mr Fisher and his men had been detained but they were being well looked after and housed in warm quarters.

"We were in a cold cell with no mattresses on the floor and it was winter," Mr Fisher said.

"There was no heating and no blankets and we had to huddle to keep warm."

When asked what got him through the 18-day ordeal and mental torture, the father of five said it was God and his family.

"The prayers and my faith plus the thoughts of my wife and five children kept me going, hoping for freedom," he said.

The Triple Canopy team was released after US Congressman Peter King took up the case.

"If it wasn't for him, I think we would still be there or worse still, who knows what could have happened to us."





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