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After a week of near constant torture, Nouman recounts, she was taken to al-Rashad hospital on the outskirts of the city. There she had the first of countless sessions of shock treatment. When she was released a month later, Nouman recalls, she felt "like a nightmare was over."
It was just beginning. She had been out only a few months when the police picked her up again, this time for allegedly saying (she denies it) "I hate Saddam." She was taken, she says, to the Khadamiya Prison for women, for a six-month spell with long stretches in solitary confinement. She was tortured and beaten by other prisoners. "The wardens told the other women that since I was an enemy of Uday, they had permission to do whatever they wanted to me," Nouman says. "The women wanted to please the wardens, so they were constantly slamming me against the walls." Again she was sent back to al-Rashad.
Nouman's life settled into a pattern. She would be arrested, thrown into prison for a few months of torture, then forced to spend a month in the mental hospital. She would be released for a few months, and then the cycle would begin again. Looking back, she has difficulty remembering the chronology and duration of her incarcerations. "There were too many," she says, "and after all those years of taking drugs at the hospital of madness, my memory is mixed up." But if the repeated punishment was meant to silence Nouman, it had the opposite effect. "When I realized that they could arrest me whether or not I did anything wrong, I thought, 'Why not speak my mind?'" She recounts how she tore up Saddam posters in the street, chanted anti-Uday slogans and, on one occasion, refused to take a 100-dinar note in change from a shopkeeper, declaring, "I don't want another picture of Saddam Hussein."
Her most famous act of defiance came in 1988, after Uday personally murdered Kamel Hanna Jajjo, Saddam's majordomo, for acting as a go-between for Saddam and one of his mistresses. Word of the scandal spread through Baghdad even to Nouman, in prison. At her next court hearing, she stood up and delivered an impromptu speech. Uday had killed a man, she said, and he should be brought to trial and imprisoned. "I said what every Iraqi was thinking," she says. "I just had nothing to lose. What could they do to me that they were not already doing?"
In Baghdad's working-class districts, Nouman gained a certain amount of fame as the crazy woman lawyer who dared to stand up to Uday. Even some of the staff at the mental hospital came to admire her tenacity. "She never stopped speaking against Uday, not even when she was getting shock treatment," says Jabar Rubbaiyeh Lefteh, an ambulance driver at the mental hospital. "She was braver than any man I know."
Like all of iraq's prisons, the fudeiliya facility on the northeastern edge of Baghdad now stands empty and wide open. After the Americans entered Baghdad, looters quickly stripped it of furniture and electrical fittings. Returning, along with a journalist and photographer, to the prison where she spent most of 1991, Nouman quickly draws a crowd of curious onlookers from the neighboring houses. She confronts them angrily: "When I was tortured here and screamed for help, did you not hear me?" The crowd remains mute.
She turns away scornfully and strides to the women's wing of the prison, where a number of large cells open onto a courtyard. A net of barbed wire hangs over the yard. The cells, now empty, are deceptively light and airy. "When they were full, I could only sit like this," says Nouman, crouching against a wall and pulling her knees against her chest. Set off from the main courtyard is a row of isolation cells. She spent several weeks in one, and hesitates before entering it now. It is relatively big for an isolation cell, 4.5 m by 3 m, with one small barred window close to the ceiling and no toilet. ("I had to make pee-pee and ca-ca in the same room," she says.)
Nouman points to an officer's room, now deserted, where she says she was tortured, "every day, sharp at 10 a.m." The officer, she relates, made her sit on an empty beer bottle until it had penetrated her rectally and filled up with blood. The officer also "made love" to her, she says, shuddering at the recollection. He was a big bear of a man and smelled of cooked meat. "I thanked God when they took me from here to the hospital of madness," she says.
While her parents were alive, Nouman, who never married, had family to return to whenever she was released from the hospital. But after her father died in 1988 and her mother passed away in 1991, her siblings refused to have anything to do with her. Over the years, most of them emigrated, without leaving forwarding addresses. Only three of her sisters remain in Baghdad, and she says they won't allow her into their homes. "What her brothers and sisters did was worse than what Uday did to her," says Mushtaq Zanbaqa, parish priest of the Chaldean Catholic church Nouman frequents. "Maybe they were afraid that Uday would punish them, but to turn your back on your own sister is a terrible, terrible thing." The three sisters declined to talk to Time. Neighbors said none of the three ever married because Nouman's reputation frightened away potential suitors. Unless the sisters have a change of heart, Nouman may wind up in the mental hospital again. With the Saddam regime gone, she would probably be treated more gently, but the thought of returning fills her with dread. Although she was happy to walk a journalist through the prisons she has lived in, she refused to visit al-Rashad. "That is Satan's place," she says. Besides, she says, she can't go anywhere until she has written the story of her life on her walls. "I have to finish this, to get everything out of my head," she says. "Then I will be at peace."
She has one other ambition. In all the years she suffered his vengeance, Nouman never met Uday. Before the war, she says, she didn't want to. Now she would love to confront her tormentor. "I want to see him, and I want him to see me," she says, thumping her chest. "I want to tell him, 'Look, I am still here, still saying what I want to say. You tried to stop me and couldn't. What can you do now?'"