14 (left) and 12 East 79th Street
Opulent Upper East Side mansions are not exactly what come to mind when one thinks of brutal dictatorships and torture chambers, but a piece in the Post reveals that Saddam Hussein kept a hidden detention room in the basement of the Mission of Iraq at 14 East 79th Street–just a block from Central Park and right across the street from former Mayor Bloomberg’s home. Two Iraqi officials, who spoke anonymously, told the paper that when Hussein rose to power in 1979, he had the prison room installed so that his military intelligence officers (the Mukhabarat) could torture local Iraqis, “using them as leverage to get their relatives back in the homeland to surrender and cooperate with the tyrannical government.”
The basement was made up of three rooms–an office for the Mukhabarat, a communications center where they shared messages with Baghdad, and the detention facility behind a giant metal door with steel bars across it. According to the officials, “It was a dark room. The doors were reinforced in a way that nobody could break in or out. You didn’t need to soundproof it. You’re not going to hear someone screaming down there.” They even went so far as to black out a skylight so the Air Force or satellites couldn’t get a look inside the five-story townhouse.
Torture tactics involved the use of copper wire, rubber hoses and wooden planks, and the Mukhabarat would also regularly pull out prisoners’ nails and beat them senseless. In some extreme cases, they’d ship dead bodies to Baghdad in Customs-exempt diplomatic boxes.
It’s believed that all evidence was destroyed in 2003, upon the American invasion of Iraq, when the U.S. government stormed the mission and cleared the space out. Saddam was, of course, executed in 2006, and in 2014 the torture chamber underwent a $120,000 renovation into (how appetizing) a kitchenette.
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Neighborhoods : Upper East Side