Inside a Ugandan Prison, a Nightmare Comes to Life

  1. Other prisoners in the cell block would drift by and steal quick glances at these two strangers, these white men, who for some reason now shared their world.

    The Africans were all dressed in tattered clothing, rags really. Most looked to be teenagers or young men. They squatted in huddles, none had shoes or sandals, some had flattened cardboard boxes that cushioned them from the concrete floor.

    Many picked lice from each other, and they all had vacant, hollow eyes and gaunt bodies. One man came to our door and said hello. "How is it?" I asked.

    "It is not good," he replied. Then he shuffled away.

    There was one window in the cell, high on the 10-foot ceiling, with bars in it. Looking through, I saw a piece of sky and a tree limb blowing in the wind.

    This was on Monday, May 17. My fellow journalist Chuck Powers, our hired driver and I were about to endure a living nightmare. In the next 48 hours we would be whipped, threatened with death and, even worse, with the most horrifying of tortures — in a place where torture and death and sudden disappearance are an everyday affair.

    Uganda is a country eating away at itself in a vicious, insatiable way. The army of President Milton Obote has become a beast with virtually no discipline, capable of looting, murder and other atrocities without provocation. Diplomats, officials of relief agencies and foundation workers all agree that Ugandan society is on the brink of anarchy. And that the army is the prime mover.

    The two of us, Charles T. Powers, 39, who covers the top two-thirds of Africa for the Los Angeles Times and I, 33, a reporter for The Inquirer, had spent the last week traveling in Uganda.

    The effects of the army's actions are plainly visible. Hundreds of simple farming villages have fallen victim to the army's uncontrolled excesses within a 40-mile radius of Kampala, where nearly 25 percent of Uganda's 13 million people live.

    We had seen deserted and abandoned villages along every major road. Tens of thousands of people, some officials say as many as 50,000, have taken to the bush to hide from marauding army troops.

    There is a guerrilla war going on, but the army has been unable to draw the guerrillas into open battle. So it has undertaken a policy of destroying villages in its search for guerrillas, or "bandits," as the government calls them.

    Every major road is manned at short distances by roadblocks where soldiers demand money and goods from all travelers. We'd heard countless stories of people being gunned down for refusing to cooperate. There are even more reports in diplomatic and international circles of terrible torture and of murder houses where people opposed to the government are killed.

    Reports have circulated in Kampala over the last two weeks of tortures that included people having their heads crushed by sledgehammers; of women having their genitals sealed so that they died of uremic poisoning, and of electrical shocks applied to the genitals of men and women, followed by castration.

    BUSY MORGUE

    Knowledgeable Kampala officials say that an average of 25 bullet-riddled bodies are brought to the city morgue every week, and that many additional bodies are dumped in forests, lakes and on roads near the city.

    Many in Uganda believe that the current period of random killings and torture is worse than anything inflicted during the reign of Idi Amin, who was ousted from power three years ago.

    As these thoughts and the details of a week's reporting filled my mind, I heard soldiers pull shut and lock the door to the cells where we now had become prisoners.

    Powers and I stared at each other. There was nothing to be said.

    We had informed the American Embassy that morning that we intended to drive to Bombo Barracks in an attempt to interview the commanding officer. We had driven to Bombo with no problem, passing through four or five checkpoints. At the last checkpoint a soldier had gotten into our car and offered to take us to the main gate.

    We arrived at the gate and showed a soldier our passports, Ugandan information ministry documents accrediting us to work and take photographs in Uganda and a letter from the U.S. Embassy stating that we were U.S. citizens and should be extended any help possible.

    The soldier at the gate, a Tanzanian with the usual AK-47 machine gun, got in our car and directed us to a headquarters building.

    WAITING AT THE GATE

    We were led to a group of officers. I had a camera slung over my shoulder. We again showed papers and asked to see the commanding officer. We were told he was not available but that he might be shortly. We were asked to go to the main gate and wait. An officer also asked if he could hold my camera while we waited. I gave it to him to hold.

    Back at the main gate we shared some crackers with soldiers and sat in the shade of a large tree. It was a clear, hot morning. In a few minutes some officers arrived and asked us to follow them. We did so in our car, a battered, white, 10-year-old Mercedes 200 SL, and were led to another officer, a man with two stars on the shoulders of his olive-green uniform.

    Again we explained out visit and showed out documents. The officer took our papers, and barely looked at them.

    He told us he was the acting commander of Bombo.

    "You are under close arrest," he said, and the words sent a flash of cold, clenching fear to my deepest bowel.

    I felt my face slacken and a sense of astonishment take hold as the fear instantly subsided into a vague sense that this was all unreal.

    Around us stood perhaps 20 members of the Ugandan National Liberation Army (UNLA), nearly all of them carrying some sort of submachine gun.

    "Why?"

    My mind heard the word spoken, but I did not know whether it had come from me or from Powers.

    No answer came from the acting barracks commander. He simply turned and got into his car, a small, white station wagon with a red bubble on top and a red cross on the side with the words "Gift of the Republic of Korea" painted above it.

    CAR SEARCH

    Half a dozen soldiers swarmed over our old Mercedes, searching for anything that could label us as spies, gunrunners or mercenaries for one of the guerrilla groups now fighting the UNLA troops of Ugandan President Obote.

    Our driver, a thin Ugandan, 26, with wide eyes and the face of an innocent, stood watching, dismay and terrible fear plain on his face.

    A soldier spoke loudly in Swahili and gestured at us with his gun. I thought he wanted to shoot us on the spot. Another soldier shoved him away, snarling something at him. The loud soldier dropped angrily on his haunches on the grass, looking like a sullen child. His machine gun rested on his inner thigh.

    A thin, long-faced officer of some sort, wearing a green baseball cap and sunglasses, began haranguing us.

    "I am Cuban-trained," he teased. "Do you know what that means? Do you know about relations between Cuba and America? You are nothing," he laughed.

    The three of us, Powers, the driver and I, were ordered into the back of a nearby Land Rover. We were joined in the back by a soldier and his machine gun. We were driven a short distance within Bombo Army Barracks, a sprawling compound of buildings 20 miles north of Kampala.

    The barracks is an ugly place. It was looted by fleeing soldiers and invaders during the final days of Amin and has never been repaired. And the ugliest and most terrible place on the barracks is the prison, to which we came after a short ride in the Land Rover.

    WELCOMING COMMITTEE

    A crowd of grinning soldiers wearing an assortment of olive-green uniforms and camouflage outfits hooted our arrival. We were taken into the squat, one-story building through a barred central passageway.

    An officer shouted, "These men are not to be beaten. Do not beat them." I wondered what kind of soldiers these were that had to be ordered not to beat people.

    A door on the right was unlocked. It opened into a murky world filled by wraith-like men. The stench of urine and feces made me gag. The floor was covered with slime.

    This was the home of some 160 men detained by the UNLA for reasons neither the army nor the government of Uganda will ever have to explain.

    The three of us were led to a cell, a cement room with a dry floor. There were palm prints on the walls and dark smears. The prints and smears were made with blood.

    Our detention, the arrest, the hooting and jeering and threats — everything had happened to us so quickly, and as I leaned against the concrete wall of the cell the seed of fear started to grow in my belly.

    About 3 p.m. the officer who had arrested us, the adjutant with stars on his shoulders, came to our cell, along with the officer with the sunglasses, the one who said he was Cuban-trained. They stood and smiled at us for a moment.

    "Have you contacted our embassy yet?" asked Powers.

    "You know you can be killed here. You know you might be killed here," the adjutant said.

    Then the two men left. I stood with my back to the wall, with my arms crossed on my chest. Powers, who has been a correspondent in Africa for two years, stood on the opposite side of the cell. We kept our thoughts to ourselves.

    An hour later a soldier came in and said, "Out, outside."

    The guard led us out, snapping and shouting at the other prisoners who cowered before him.

    On the porch of the prison we were introduced to three more officers. The men said they were from the area's command headquarters. They asked us to tell them what had happened and why we had come to Bombo.

    We related the account of our arrest and our desire to speak with the commander. They asked whether we had taken pictures. We said no.

    "This does not look too difficult," said the young officer in front of us.

    I could feel my heart lift. "I think we can straighten this out, but certain channels must be notified. . . . You must understand there are guerrillas in the area, and we have reports that outsiders are aiding them."

    TEMPORARILY RELAXED

    The officer's courteous manner relaxed me, and we asked if we might be allowed to sit outside instead of in the cell. He said he would see what he could do.

    The original cell we had been in was being cleaned by the other prisoners, who with rags and small buckets of water were washing out the accumulated filth.

    We were taken to another cell. There was an electronic device of some sort in it with wires hanging from it. There were more bloody palm prints on the walls, and there was a small box, which I sat on.

    After the guard left us I opened the box. It was filled with machine-gun cartridges and identification papers. I opened some of the papers and saw a picture of a man. His age was listed as 55 and his occupation as farmer.

    I looked at the man's face and wondered if it were his palm print that was on the wall. Powers and I looked at the electronic box, which was about 4 feet tall. "Torture machine," he whispered.

    We paced about and hoped the officer from the area command, the one with the courteous manner, could do something before nightfall. No one travels at night in Uganda, and we did not want to spend the night in Bombo Barracks prison.

    After 10 or 15 minutes in that cell we were again called out. I thought we were going to be released.

    Outside there were now dozens of soldiers, maybe 50 or 60, in a big semicircle. They were nearly all armed. Standing in front of the building was a baby-faced man in a black "Mobutu suit," a kind of loose-fitting African-style leisure suit.

    MOMENT OF TERROR

    Our driver was also brought out. Powers still had a shoulder bag containing some eyeglasses and a copy of War and Peace, from which he had been reading aloud only moments before.

    The man in the black suit called for the shoulder bag. Powers stepped forward and handed it to him.

    "Son of a bitch," screamed the man and swung the bag at Powers.

    My gut tightened.

    Powers stepped back.

    The man laughed, a squealing pig of a laugh. When he laughed the soldiers and officers standing around laughed too.

    "So you have come to Africa to see the black monkey," ranted the man in the black suit. "Well you will see the black monkey. You think we are stupid. I know what you Americans think. I have been to America."

    The man pointed at me and ordered me forward. I walked forward. "Down," he ordered, "get down."

    I did not move. I noticed a soldier taking a machine gun off his shoulder in front of me. The officer who had arrested us was smiling, and the officer with the sunglasses had my camera over his shoulder.

    "You think you can come here and do what you like," spat Sunglasses.

    "Get down," hissed Black Suit.

    THE WHIP

    I felt like I was watching all of this from some other place. I did not move. I felt a prod in my back. I thought it must be a gun.

    I got down on my hands and knees.

    "Down," came the order.

    A soldier standing nearby had a 3-or 4-foot yellow whip. It was thick-handled at the bottom and tapered to a narrow tip. It was an African whip called a kiboko , made of elephant hide.

    Something pushed me down to my belly. I wondered where they were going to whip me. I felt strangely calm.

    The first cracking blow seared across my buttocks. My hands dug into the earth. The second searing crack. I wondered how many. The third searing slash. I thought: Don't scream, they'll only enjoy it and hit you more.

    The fourth lash. Maybe I should cry out. They may want to know it hurts. The fifth. I decided to remain silent.

    The sixth: Don't tighten your muscles. If you stay relaxed it will be less painful later.

    The seventh. I heard someone counting. The whipping stopped after someone reached 11. A boot landed in my left shoulder.

    "Get up," said the pig of a man in the black suit.

    I got up. I was in a daze. I don't remember looking at Powers or anyone else.

    Then Powers was ordered forward. He too was whipped. He writhed and screamed. I watched. I saw the dust fly. I saw the flex of the whipper's muscles. I saw the smile on the lips of the man in black. I could have killed him with my hands.

    "LUXURY HOTEL"

    Then our driver was whipped. His back arched high with each snapping stroke. The three of us stood in a row on the porch of the prison.

    "How did you like your dinner," screeched the man in the black suit. "You will get 12 more for breakfast and 24 more for lunch. You have come to see Bombo; well, now you see Bombo. How do you like it? This is your hotel, your luxury hotel."

    My mind whirred. Did nothing that the officer from area command say mean anything? Was it all part of their technique, and was this sadistic bastard the commander? He was clearly in charge.

    He then ordered us searched. They took papers from our pockets, and they took our shoes and socks, my eyeglasses and Powers' shoulder bag.

    "Have you contacted our embassy?" asked Powers. The man in the black suit squealed his pig laugh again. The circle of soldiers laughed.

    My heart sank. I breathed deeply. I did not think of anything specific. I did not want to think it was true. But my throbbing buttocks and the helpless humiliation I felt had a deep hold on me.

    We were ordered back to our cell. The man in the black suit came forward. I saw that he limped badly, his left leg swung out at an angle from the knee.

    "Do you know when Jesus Christ will return?" he asked. We did not reply.

    "Be prepared for a long stay in your new hotel. For you will stay until Christ returns."

    AN EMBRACE

    We were led back to our first cell. We walked barefoot through the slime. I did not care. In the cell Powers and I embraced. He whispered, "We've got to get out of here."

    We talked of escaping and of how they might kill us. We both knew these men were capable of literally anything. There were soldiers all around us with machine guns. There was a high barbed-wire fence surrounding the prison and 20 miles of thick bush and roadblocked road back to Kampala.

    The day had turned cloudy, and sunset neared. Despair held our hearts in a tightening vise.

    Soon another guard appeared, and we were taken back to the cell where the electric torture machine had been. It was gone now, as was the box containing the bullets and identification cards.

    The room was four paces long and three wide. The ceiling was 10 feet high, and there were two barred open windows facing west and east about 8 feet up the wall.

    On one wall was an especially distinct set of bloody palm prints. They looked as if someone had been forced to stand with their hands against the wall until they slid down, leaving a long trail of blood. I often stared at this macabre painting and gave it a name, "The Silent Screaming Hands."

    The weather had turned damp. I was chilled. I wore a pair of khaki shorts, a T-shirt and a cotton long-sleeve shirt. Powers wore jeans and a cotton shirt. The floor was cool on our bare feet.

    SOLDIER IN THE NIGHT

    My mouth was dry. I had eaten nothing since breakfast; Powers had not even eaten breakfast. Darkness rushed in. One corner of the cell was wet.

    Just at dark an officer came in. He wore a plastic raincoat and a pistol on his hip. Soldiers peered over his shoulder. He told us he was the commander of the prison and that his name was Ephraim.

    He ordered the men to bring us some water and food. He assured us that we would not be killed or beaten again. I desperately wanted to believe him.

    He said he did not know when we might leave.

    Some hot pinto beans were brought in a tin helmet. I sipped some water from a filthy can and ate a few beans with my hands. But I had no appetite.

    Our watches had been taken. We did not know what time it was. Our driver had been placed in the larger cell block across the hallway, where we had originally been held. We feared for his life.

    The darkness in the cell was soon total. Powers and I huddled in a corner. I thought about my family and the woman I love and began to cry thinking I might not see her again.

    I prayed. I prayed like I had never prayed before. It became a trance-like thing. Powers and I barely talked. In our minds we knew the night might hold the end of our lives. The darkness was total, and we were trapped in it and helpless.

    As the night wore on, Powers and I lay down on the concrete. We held each other for warmth and because of fear.

    MYSTICAL RAMBLINGS

    I prayed constantly with my hands on my forehead. My prayers were deep and mystical. "Dear Lord," I might begin, and then my mind would ramble.

    But in the rambling there was a distinct focus, for I concentrated fiercely and tried to communicate my prayer to someone or something. And I prayed not only to God but to forces and energies of friends and ancestors I thought strong and positive and, more importantly, good. For I knew my life hung between a balance of good and evil.

    Sometimes Powers and I spoke. We needed to give each other hope. We talked of the American Embassy finding out, of what they would do and how in the morning they would know we were missing. But the morning was hours away.

    Sometimes during the night we heard trucks, and each time we heard a truck I willed it to stay away. I had to think I could do that. But one truck came our way, its headlights shining though the bars on our wall, making a distinct silhouette.

    Powers and I clenched each other tighter. Was this truck going to take us to some torture, to some terrible death? Our embrace communicated our terror.

    The truck stopped outside the prison. The engine shut off. We heard men's voices. Our hearts pounded against each others chests.

    Something was being moved. Something heavy and metallic.

    "My God," I thought, "It's the electronic machine. My God, no please." I prayed so hard that I saw white snaps of light in the center of my mind.

    SIGH OF GRATITUDE

    I could feel Powers shaking. Later he told me he could feel me shaking. The diabolical device was loaded onto the truck with much clanging and banging.

    The doors to the truck slammed shut, and the truck started up and drove away. "Thank God," I said.

    It wasn't even midnight. I did not sleep at all that night. I would shut my eyes and would open them hoping to see some sign of dawn.

    Dawn meant morning. If I could see light I would be alive, and the morning meant the American Embassy would realize we were missing.

    We had to believe they would know. For to be without hope in that cell was a horror too terrible to contemplate.

    Dawn did come, as did the morning. Every part of me ached. We were dirty. But we were alive.

    Now our minds worked feverishly. We saw the embassy spring into action. We saw someone going to our hotel and finding that we had not come back. We saw the owner of the Mercedes we had leased being concerned and going to the embassy. Someone had to be doing something.

    SOLDIERS OF THE MORNING

    The morning light brought the soldiers alive.

    We heard the banging of their guns, their shouts at the other prisoners who had been let out of their cell block and forced to squat in the dirt for roll call. The soldiers cursed them, sometimes slapped them and snapped whips on them and around them.

    We were allowed to go to the toilet. Soldiers came to look at us and question us. They were curious about the Americans, about the Wazungu , the white men.

    Sometime that morning we heard a motorbike pull up before the prison. We were brought outside. It was Black Suit again.

    He grinned at us and asked if we had spent a pleasant night. We said nothing. We had discussed what we had to do. We had to impress any officer we might meet that we were people who would be missed.

    Black Suit asked us if our embassy knew we were at Bombo Barracks. I reminded him what I had told him the day before or at least told other officers, that we had called the embassy Monday morning and told them of our plans.

    Black Suit responded that it was time for our breakfast. Ephraim, our friend of the night before, stood next to him holding the whip.

    "How many lashes did you receive last night," asked Black Suit.

    "Ten," I said. I lied.

    "Good, then you will have 12 this morning. Now tell me what you have been doing."

    Black Suit was sitting on a Vespa motorbike he had ridden to the prison. Powers began telling him of various ministers we had met with. At the mention of some, Black Suit murmured, "I know him."

    CONCERN FOR APPETITE

    His demeanor began to change. But I did not trust him. When Powers finished relating the many people in the Ugandan Government, as well as diplomats, we had seen, Black Suit asked us if we were hungry.

    Then he ordered that we be given biscuits and beans from a tin. He allowed us to eat sitting on the porch and then sent us back to the cell. We immediately began to confer. Did this mean that the embassy had already made contact with the Ugandan government? Did the world know we were being detained?

    A few hours later Black Suit came back and asked if we had enough to eat, if we were all right.

    Powers again asked if the American Embassy had been contacted. "You will be here indefinitely," Black Suit leered, "indefinitely."

    As the afternoon warmed we lay on the cement floor and dozed fitfully. Soldiers would rouse us from time to time by shouting, "Americans, hey Americans."

    One soldier came by and wanted to talk with us. He was intelligent and articulate and said we might be released when the commanding officer came back. Then we asked if we would be beaten again.

    "Maybe, maybe not," he said. We asked the soldier who the man in the black suit was. We were told he was in the army intelligence and worked out of Bombo Barracks and a place called Nile Mansions.

    Neither of us responded. Nile Mansions is a former hotel in Kampala now reportedly used by Ugandan Special Police and army intelligence as a torture house.

    In some of the downtime dread that followed that day and night, I told myself I would not be taken to Nile Mashions alive. I would rather be gunned down than tortured.

    During that late afternoon in our cell we grew concerned. We thought that we would be out by Tuesday afternoon. What was the embassy doing? Didn't they know? Did our newspapers know? Did anyone in the State Department in Washington know?

    We both grew concerned that army intelligence officers might go to our hotel in Kampala and search our rooms. We both had notes damning the Obote government, as well as documents detailing torture and killings.

    Our notebooks when we arrived at the barracks had already been taken. I was concerned that the people named in those notebooks might also be in danger.

    The afternoon turned to evening, and no one came to see us. There was no way to be comfortable in the cell. The only escape was to go deep inside my mind.

    Once I lay flat on my back, my heels, elbows, hips aching from the floor, my buttocks sore from the beating.

    I thought that it was the middle of May and began to drift. I saw myself as a boy lying on a bed of pine needles under a pine tree. I smelled the pine needles and felt their cushion under my back.

    I looked up through the boughs at a deep blue sky and watched clouds sail by. I played a game of turning the clouds into animals.

    That reverie was startled by the clamp of a heavy boot outside and the rattle of a machine gun dropped on the wooden porch.

    But it mattered not, because for a few moments I had been somewhere else, and in a cell in Bombo Barracks each moment passed was a triumph, for a day is too long a thing in a prison, just a measure of time divided by light and dark.

    A NECESSARY FAITH

    And Powers and I had to believe that each passing moment brought us closer to freedom. We had to believe that.

    Three women in the adjoining cell were prisoners because someone thought they were guerrillas. One was an old woman bent from years of hoeing, the other two were younger women. A small boy in that cell was supposed to be some sort of informant.

    As dark descended on the second night of our captivity, Powers went to the older woman and asked if we might borrow one of her pieces of cloth to use as a blanket. She had several, as well as tins to eat her food in.

    The soldiers let the prisoners keep some of their belongings, but nothing was given to us. The woman signaled to us that she would give us a piece of cloth, but only after it became dark. We traded a tin of beans for it.

    That night the cloth felt like a quilt. I wrapped it around my bare legs and it warmed me. Powers and I shared it, and from exhaustion — and with less fear in us — we each dozed off a few times.

    I dozed off just before dawn and was awakened by the sound of a soldier unloading bullets from his gun. The metallic click and drop of the ejecting bullets was a gruesome alarm clock.

    PRISONERS TORMENTED

    Soon the loud voices of the soldiers, mostly members of the Acholi and Langi tribes from northern Uganda, filled the morning air as they roused the other prisoners and tormented them with swishing whips and club blows to the head and back.

    That morning, Wednesday, we were optimistic. We had hopes of release, another night had passed, we thought there had to be actions being taken by the embassy and by others who must now be concerned by our disappearance in a place where disappearance often means death.

    A few hours after sunrise we heard a car approach. It stopped outside. We hoped this could mean freedom. I checked myself from becoming too optimistic.

    A guard called for us, the gate to the outside was opened. We walked out. It was the officer in the white car who had ordered us arrested.

    He stood there and looked at us.

    "Just checking to see how you are," he said.

    "Does our embassy know we're here?" asked Powers.

    The officer did not answer. He just said, "You are here indefinitely. Take them back."

    BACK IN THE CELL

    We slumped on the floor of our cell. Both of us wrapped our arms around our knees and leaned back against the wall. Nothing had to be said. Nothing could be said.

    "Maybe," said Powers, "he just wants to see if we look good enough to be released."

    "Maybe," I said.

    We knew that all we could do was wait. We both prayed.

    Later, but still in the morning, we heard another car approach. We looked at each other. Maybe, just maybe?

    A soldier called us out, again the iron gate was opened. We saw our battered Mercedes. The driver was the officer who had arrested us. Ephraim was with him.

    Our driver was brought out from the other cell block.

    We did not know what was happening. We said nothing.

    The officer told us to get in. We were driven a short distance to the headquarters where we had gone just two days before.

    "You will now see the commanding officer," the officer said.

    I held my breath. We walked to the porch of the headquarters. I noticed that most of the windows in the building were broken and that doors hung on broken hinges. Cows grazed nearby, and manure piles were just steps away from where the commanding officer awaited us.

    He was a large man with three stars on his shoulders. He wore glasses and had a broad, strong, close-shaven face. There was a deep scar on his left cheek.

    "Are you alright?" he said as he extended his hand in greeting. We answered yes. He said, "Come, sit down," and led us into a room empty except for a few ragged chairs and a table.

    "FREE MEN"

    The other officers followed.

    "Get them their shoes and belongings," said the commanding officer. "You are free men. You will be taken to army headquarters to ensure your safe conduct to Kampala and then be turned over to the American Embassy. We do not want you traveling back in Kampala alone, for if something happened to you we would be responsible."

    I wanted to believe the man, but I did not know whether I should. But I wanted to believe him desperately.

    I sat facing him as he began lecturing us about how we should never have attempted to "infiltrate the barracks."

    We apologized but explained that we had come openly and, in fact, were brought into the barracks by soldiers. The commanding officer, a major, seemed not to hear.

    He told us he did not fear white men, that he had, in fact, traveled in Europe. We could do little but listen.

    As the major talked, the man who had been our chief tormentor, Black Suit, arrived. He saluted the major and sat down.

    The major asked if our escort was ready. It soon appeared, three or four men with machine guns and one boy of no more than 12. The boy wore an Ugandan army uniform and carried a machine gun as tall as he was.

    "If you were mistreated I am sorry," said the major. "But I will not apologize, for this is an army barracks."

    We said nothing. We were led to our car. Black Suit got in the back seat next to me. Powers sat in the front. Our driver drove.

    LOATHING

    I loathed being so near to Black Suit and loathed more having to act as if I did not want to kill him with my hands. Behind us in a small car rode a car bristling with machine guns.

    As we pulled out of Bombo Barracks, Black Suit took a 9mm automatic pistol from his left pocket and stuffed a clip of bullets in its stock. Then he put the gun back in his pocket.

    I thought about getting that gun from him. I thought about my fear of Nile Mansions. I saw myself pouncing on Black Suit and saw our car speeding to the American Embassy. But I knew that behind us rode the machine guns.

    We drove to Kampala, and after a brief stop at army headquarters we were told to go to police headquarters. There we were met by an official from the American Embassy. It was nearly over.

    I felt an overwhelming sense of fatigue. I was weak in the knees. I was filthy but I was alive. All I needed to do was get out of Uganda.

    Powers and I drove out of Uganda on Thursday. We passed through seven or eight armed roadblocks, and at each one I said a little prayer.

    After our release we learned that the officials at the American Embassy had, indeed, become alarmed when we did not contact them late Monday afternoon.

    But they had not been alarmed enough to begin any kind of investigation. Early Tuesday morning the embassy had gotten an anonymous phone call from someone who told them that two Americans were prisoners at Bombo Barracks and had been beaten.

    DETENTION CONFIRMED

    The call, along with the concern from the day before, set the embassy in motion. High-ranking officials in the Ugandan government were contacted and told of our arrest. None of them said he knew anything about it.

    But sometime that day both the Ugandan government and the army confirmed that we had been detained, and assurances were given that we would be released without further harm. There was no explanation ever given as to why our release was delayed, nor were we formally charged with any crime. Most of our confiscated personal belongings were returned, but not $400 belonging to Powers, my glasses and $50 of mine.

    The film in my camera was developed by the army, and they discovered photos of a drum-maker I'd met and his two children. Our notebooks were not returned.

    Both Powers and I fear that some of those names we noted, or those whose pictures we took, might be in grave danger.

    Our driver, who we both chose not to name, has fled Uganda and is now in Kenya. While he was in the cell block, separated from us, he saw two men beaten to death with clubs by Ugandan army soldiers.

    We learned that the man I called Black Suit was, in fact, a Major Agetta. We were told he was one of the most notorious killers and torturers in Uganda.

    An official who identified Agetta said, "You two are very lucky to be alive."