Peter Ginter learned what it was like to be a prisoner of war in combat training exercises so he had an idea of what to expect last month when he was roughed up, stripped and locked in a 6-by-8-foot cell in Iraq.
But the ex-Marine never imagined his captors would be U.S. troops. And he never dreamed they would hand him a Koran and a prayer rug, and treat him like the enemy for the next 72 hours.
"It's just unreal," said Ginter, 30, Colorado Springs, Colo., the latest to speak out among 16 American and three Iraqi security contractors who were detained for three days in a facility with insurgents after being accused of firing shots at U.S. troops near Fallujah.
Ginter said he was kicked, his head bounced off the pavement and his testicle squeezed by a guard during his detention.
"I was more worried about my life from the (U.S.) military than from the insurgents," he told The Associated Press late Wednesday.
"It's like you are stepping out of reality and stepping into the `Twilight Zone,'" he said. "I can't sleep at night anymore. I keep thinking I hear the steel door slamming."
Ginter arrived in Reno late Wednesday to meet with his lawyer, Mark Schopper, who also represents another of the detained contractors, Matt Raiche, 34, Dayton, Nev. Raiche leveled similar accusations of abuse by Marines when he returned to Nevada last week.
Schopper said they're examining possible legal recourse.
"The priority right now is to clear these men's names," he said.
The Marines detained the contractors May 28 after they allegedly fired from trucks and SUVs on Iraqi civilian cars and U.S. forces in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad. They were released June 1, and no charges have been filed.
The Marines have denied allegations of abuse.
The contractors worked for Zapata Engineering based in Charlotte, N.C., which has a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to manage an ammunition storage depot in Iraq and to collect and transport captured ammunition to the depot for destruction.
Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, a spokesman for the Marines in Iraq, said the convoy was stopped and the contractors detained "because Marines witnessed them firing at or near civilian vehicles and at Marine positions."
"We continue to investigate this matter, to include the contractors' actions leading up to this incident, the actions of our Marines, as well as the contractors' allegations of abuse," he said in an e-mail to the AP on Thursday.
Company president Manuel Zapata has said the only shot fired by his workers was a warning blast after they noticed a vehicle following them.
Ginter, who served eight years in the Marines, said he'd been through a couple of "SERE's" schools - Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training - most recently at the U.S. Navy's remote training site in San Diego County, Calif.
"You get captured and placed in a facility. You get thrown around so that if some actual insurgents get you, you know how you are going to be treated," Ginter said.
"But you can quit at any time if you can't take it anymore. That's a lot different," he said.
His first day in detention, he said a guard slammed him to the ground after he came out of a portable bathroom.
"All of the sudden a big guy grabbed me and forced me to the ground. He kicked me in the right ankle. He started searching me. He ripped off my rosary beads from my wrist and my necklace (with a wooden cross)."
"I said, `Sir, those are my religious items. It's my right to have those.' And he said shut ... up.'"
"He emptied everything out of my pockets and he reached down, grabbed my testicle and squeezed it so hard I started getting really sick.
"He bounced my head on the ground and told the girl with the dog, `If he moves, let the dog go.'
"I kept thinking, these are Americans. I trust Americans. So I did what I was told."
"It's bad enough when you've got to worry every day about insurgents passing fake IDs and driving car bombs into your convoy. Now I've got to worry about our own military, too?" he said.
Lapan confirmed there was a military working dog and handler present "as a security measure before the individuals were transferred to the detention facility."
"According to the handler and witnesses, the dog never got closer than 6-10 feet from the contractors, barked a few times, and sat docile at the handler's side the entire time," Lapan said Thursday.
"The contract personnel were treated professionally and appropriately the entire time they were in the custody of military personnel. That a potentially dangerous situation was resolved without death or injury to anyone is a testament to the professionalism and skill of our Marines," he said.
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