PHILADELPHIA -- Two American reporters arrested by Ugandan soldiers endured a 'living nightmare' in which they were whipped and jailed for two days in a cell with slime on the floor and blood on the walls.
In a first-person account published Sunday, Robert J. Rosenthal, 33, of the Philadelphia Inquirer said he and Charles T. Powers, 39, of the Los Angeles Times were arrested when they arrived at the Bombo Army Barracks to interview the commanding officer. Also arrested was the reporters' hired driver.
'This was on Monday, May 17,' Rosenthal wrote. 'My fellow journalist Chuck Powers, our hired driver and I were about to endure a living nightmare.
'A crowd of grinning soldiers wearing an assortment of olive-green uniforms and camouflage outfits hooted our arrival (inside the Bombo compound).
'An officer shouted, 'These men are not to be beaten. Do not beat them,'' Rosenthal wrote. '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.'
Already in the jail, located 20 miles from the capital city of Kampala, were about 160 men detained by the Ugandan National Liberation Army of President Milton Obote, he said.
'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.'
Later, Rosenthal, Powers and the driver were taken outside where 50 or 60 soldiers, nearly all of them armed, formed a semicircle.
A man in a black suit ordered Rosenthal to get down on his hands and knees. The reporter said he saw a solider with a '3- or 4-foot yellow whip.'
'The first cracking blow seared my buttocks,' wrote Rosenthal. 'My hands dug into the earth. The second searing crack. I wondered how many.' Rosenthal said he was whipped 11 times. Powers and the driver also were whipped.
That night, Rosenthal 'prayed like I had never prayed before -- it became a trance-like thing.'
'As the night wore on,' he said, 'Powers and I lay down on the concrete. We held each other for warmth and because of fear.'
After the second night in jail had passed, the officer who made the arrests took the reporters to see the commanding officer.
'You are free men,' the commander said.
'If you have been mistreated I am sorry,' the commander said. 'But I will not apologize, for this is an army barracks.'
After his release Rosenthal returned to Kenya, his base during his long-term African assignment, the Inquirer said.