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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 January 2006, 17:38 GMT
Saddam's ear amputees
By Becky Milligan
BBC Newsnight

"There's a constant sadness in me," Khalid tells me when we first meet.

Khalid is an Iraqi torture victim from Basra. He and another victim, Adel, had been brutally punished for refusing to serve in Saddam Hussein's army.

A side image of Khalid

For their defiance their ears were cut off.

Both men were deeply traumatised, shutting themselves off from the world and shunned by society.

All this happened 12 years ago when Saddam Hussein passed decree 115 - it stated that those refusing to join the army or who deserted the army would have their ears amputated.

But at the point I meet Khalid and Adel in London their life story is about to change.

In an intricate and lengthy operation their ears are going to be reconstructed. When they return to Iraq they can begin to rebuild their shattered lives.

Victims

They're not the only ones to suffer. There are about 450 other victims in Basra alone and there are likely to be thousands more who suffered the same fate across the rest of Iraq.

A piece of Khalid's rib is carefully moulded into the shape of an ear
A piece of Khalid's rib is carefully moulded into the shape of an ear
Usually the victims were in their late teens or early 20s, poor and uneducated.

Khalid remembers clearly what happened to him. With his face contorted with emotion, he told me how he was arrested by Baath party thugs and taken to police headquarters.

The next day, he tells me, without investigation, without any court hearing, they took him to prison and injected him with anaesthetic and amputated his ear.

When he woke up, he said, he was in a small prison full of people who'd had the same punishment.

"They just wanted to be rid of us," he said, "they wouldn't have cared if we'd died."

Surgery

Early the next morning Khalid is ready to go into hospital.

Surgeon's operate on Khalid's ear
Khalid had no nerves about the nine hour operation
He has no nerves as the hospital staff prepare him for surgery. The final time I see him before the operation he's smiling broadly and waving.

In the operating theatre the two consultant plastic surgeons Walid Sabbagh and David Ross, who will do the reconstruction, explain what is going to happen.

Talking while Khalid lies asleep between them, they explain that in this nine hour operation, a small part of Khalid's rib will be cut out and used to make the new ear.

Later on in the operation I watch Walid Sabbagh spend three hours carefully shape and mould the rib into the shape of an ear.

How it will look in the future is dependent on how good an artist Walid Sabbagh is. He tells me he's practised on potatoes to perfect his art.

Reborn

After several hours the new ear is ready to attach to the side of Khalid's head and is kept in place with bandages.

Khalid's bandages are removed
The impact of the reconstruction on Khalid's life will be immense
Khalid and Adel are the lucky ones - there are many more Iraqis queuing up for this operation.

The Swedish based charity, The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, paid $35,000 for the two to travel to London to receive the treatment.

They also arranged training for three Iraqi surgeons so they could learn how to do the highly specialised operation.

But money is short. And one of the visiting Iraqi surgeons told me it's too delicate and difficult a procedure to learn just observing operations for three weeks.

When Khalid and Adel return home to the Basra the impact of their new ears is immense.

Their family and friends greet them with cheers, singing and tears.

Both men are laughing and hugging their families. But Khalid's mother is the most emotional.

She says it's like he's been reborn - like he's been raised from the dead.

Becky Milligan's report was shown on Newsnight on Wednesday 11 January, 2006.

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