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Iraq: Human Rights Watch Says Torture Still Routine In Jails

Human Rights Watch says some detainees have reported being tortured or mistreated (file photo) Prague, 25 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-based NGO Human Rights Watch says in a report released today that abuse and torture remain routine in Iraqi jails.

The report says prisoners have been beaten, electrocuted, starved of food and water, or crammed into standing-room-only cells. And it accuses the Iraqi government of actively taking part, or at least being complicit in what it calls "grave violations of fundamental human rights."

Human Rights Watch says it interviewed 90 people who had been detained in Iraqi prisons after the transfer of sovereignty last year. Of those, 72 claimed to have been tortured or abused by Iraqi security forces.

"They reported being hung from ceilings, beaten with metal rods and wooden sticks," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of the watchdog's Middle East and North Africa section. "They reported having electrical wires attached to their genitals and limbs and subjected to electric shock. They reported being deprived of food and water and only given food if they could bribe police officials to give them some."

Whitson said that detainees were denied family visits or access to lawyers, and that many were forced to sign confessions -- sometimes blindfolded.

She said that many of those interviewed were later released without charge.

And she said that interviewees reported the same kind of abuse at similar points during their detention -- suggesting this is a "frequent pattern" in many detention facilities.

The report acknowledges that Iraq security forces face daunting challenges, including a brutal insurgency that has frequently targeted police, as well as civilians.

But Whitson said that is no excuse. "International and Iraqi domestic law is perfectly clear that torture is never permitted and never justified. There is nothing that justifies torturing detainees who are actually in your custody and don't pose any kind of a threat at the time that they're in custody," Whitson said. "This is a problem of leadership. It's a problem of a failure in leadership by the highest levels of Iraqi government to say unequivocally and clearly, that torture is not an acceptable policing tactic, that torturers will be punished, that torture will be investigated and that it will not be tolerated."

In the first official Iraqi reaction to the report, Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin acknowledged that abuses have taken place. He said it will take time for Iraqi forces to change their behavior after decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.
Human Rights Minister Bakhtiar Amin acknowledged that abuses have taken place.

But he said Iraq is working to solve the problem.

"We informed the general-prosecutor, the Judiciary Council, the Interior Ministry, and the Justice Ministry, and we tried to inform them of all violations found," Amin said. "And we asked them to improve the situation and punish anyone who has committed these violations."

Britain's Foreign Office welcomed the Human Rights Watch report and said it will study it.

Britain's ambassador to Iraq, Edward Chaplin, said he will discuss it with the Iraqi government.

But Whitson of Human Rights Watch said that the group wants governments that have forces in Iraq to back up such words with action.

Among the group's recommendations -- that British and U.S. advisers send a clearer message that abuse and torture must not be tolerated.

And it says human rights practices and lawful police techniques must be a core element of police training conducted by U.S.-led forces.

In a related development, the American Civil Liberties Union cited newly released U.S. government files in charging that the U.S. Army has failed to aggressively probe claims of abuse of Iraqi civilians at American detention centers.

An Army spokesperson said it has aggressively investigated all credible allegations of detainee abuse and has held soldiers accountable for their actions.

(compiled from wire reports)

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