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HRW reveals horrific Iraq prison abuse

Thursday, April 29, 2010 01:25:05 PM, Agencies

Abu Ghraib was in news earlier too when the reports of abuse were disclosed

(File Photo)

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Baghdad: Iraqi men held for months at a secret prison outside Baghdad were systematically raped, electrocuted, beaten up and forced to sign confession statements that they were forbidden to read, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday in a harrowing report reminiscent of the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib.

Some of the detainees, mostly Sunnis from the northern city of Mosul, were beaten by Iraqi guards so badly they lost teeth and urinated blood for days afterward, said the report by New York-based HRW.

The watchdog interviewed 42 men who were recently transferred to another detention facility in Baghdad, after details of misconduct were passed to the government.

HRW described the prisoners’ accounts of abuse as “credible and consistent,” said there must be an independent and impartial investigation, and called for prosecutions at the highest level.

“The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna,” the watchdog’s deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said, referring to the west Baghdad prison where the men were held until recently. “The government needs to prosecute all those responsible for this systematic brutality.”

The men held at the prison were suspected Sunni Arab insurgents from the northern province of Nineveh, who had been arrested between September and December last year, according to the HRW report.

The existence of the jail has caused alarm for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, whose officials said it was shut two weeks ago after the abuse allegations were first published in the Los Angeles Times.

According to HRW, prison guards hung blindfolded detainees upside down during interrogations, then kicked, whipped and beat them before placing a dirty plastic bag over suspects’ heads to cut off their air supply. When prisoners passed out, they were awoken by electric shocks to their genitals or other parts of the body, the report said.

The detainees, who were interviewed at the Al-Rusafa detention facility in Baghdad on April 26, told HRW that interrogators and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels.

Some young men said they were whipped with heavy cables, burned with acid and cigarettes, and had their teeth smashed.

Another detainee, who was 21, said interrogators threatened to rape his mother and sisters if he did not confess. During one torture session, guards made another detainee rape him.

“What happened at Muthanna is an example of the horrendous abuse Iraqi leaders say they want to leave behind,” Stork said. “Everyone responsible, from the top down, needs to be held accountable.”

One of eight detainee accounts published by HRW described how an imprisoned doctor instructed guards that an abused cell mate, who he suspected had internal bleeding, required urgent medical treatment.

“The guards took the tortured man out but returned him an hour later saying that he was fine. He died in the cell an hour later,” it said.

The HRW report bore similarities with the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, in 2004, where a US military unit tortured Iraqi prisoners in a scandal, which shocked the world.

Dalshad Zebari, a Kurdish lawmaker from Nineveh province, where most of the detainees were from, said a government investigation was not enough and there should be international involvement. “We will ask the UN and the International Red Cross for an urgent investigation of these human rights violations and to force the Iraqi government to make public the names of those involved in these cruel crimes and ensure they face justice.”

The revelation has come at a sensitive time for Al-Maliki as he tries to negotiate alliances with other factions that would allow him to be reappointed as prime minister following an inconclusive election in March.

The Human Rights Ministry says three Iraqi Army officers have been arrested for questioning. The prison was illegal because it was not under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry and the Human Rights Ministry was not informed of it.

Conditions in legal Iraqi prisons are often not much better. The justice system relies on confessions for prosecutions, not evidence. That makes torture common though perhaps not as routine as under ousted dictator Saddam Hussein. The report has angered the Sunni population who sees it as another example of persecution at the hands of Shiite-led government.




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