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Iraq: Amnesty Says Baghdad Systematically Tortures Political Prisoners

The human rights group Amnesty International has released a report detailing what it calls the systematic torture of political prisoners in Iraq. The report says Baghdad uses torture to inflict "horrendous" suffering on those suspected of disloyalty to the regime. It also says security forces sometimes carry out spontaneous public executions of its enemies or their families to terrify witnesses into submission to the state. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports:

Prague, 23 August 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The Amnesty International report on torture in Iraq does not make pleasant reading.

The seven-page document, released this month, records in uncompromising detail how the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein exacts its revenge on any citizen it views as a political opponent. The revenge takes the form of systematic torture designed to severely injure or mutilate the victim. Some of the victims die as a result, while many others live with permanent physical or psychological damage.

Amnesty International says that it bases its charge of systematic torture on evidence compiled over several years in interviews with hundreds of victims. And it calls on Baghdad to stop the practice, which is in violation of international human rights conventions and of Iraq's own constitution and penal codes.

The organization says that torture is routinely used by the government both to extract information and confessions from detainees and as a form of punishment. It says that political detainees usually are tortured immediately following their arrest and that the torture frequently takes place in the headquarters of the General Security Directorate in Baghdad or in its branches in the provinces. Torture also takes place in the headquarters and branches of the General Intelligence Agency and in police stations and detention centers.

The Amnesty report says that the torture victims range from army, security, and intelligence officers suspected of having contacts with the Iraqi opposition abroad to followers of leading Shi'a Muslim religious personalities. Baghdad brutally suppressed a Shi'a rebellion in southern Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, and the regime used mass arrests and torture to crack down after several subsequent periods of unrest.

Amnesty International says the fate of one Shi'a Muslim theology student, Al-Shaikh Nazzar Kadhim al-Bahadli, is typical of the kind of retribution suffered by members of Iraq's Shi'a Muslim majority when they are accused of opposing the government.

The 29-year old student, who lived in the Saddam City district of Baghdad, was arrested in 1999 after riots in Shi'a neighborhoods following the murder of Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr and his two sons. Many Shi'a accused the Saddam regime of ordering the killings as part of a continuing campaign to dominate the community.

Maya Catsanis, a member of Amnesty International's press office in London, described for RFE/RL the treatment of Al-Bahadli following his arrest. Maya Catsanis says:

"He was arrested in 1999 and was tortured for long periods in the building of Saddam City Security Directorate. His wife, father, and mother were reportedly brought to the building in August 1999 and were tortured in front of him to force him to confess to being one of those responsible for the April 1999 disturbances in Saddam City. He was said to have confessed in order to spare his relatives any further torture. They were released following his confession, but he was sentenced to death later and executed at the beginning of this year."

Amnesty International says that the forms of torture that victims suffer range from gouging out of the eyes to severe beatings to electric shocks. Other methods include piercing of the hands with an electric drill and the forcing of objects, including broken bottles, into the rectum. Some victims are raped and otherwise sexually abused, while others are subjected to mock executions, which are stopped only at the last moment.

The abuse is not confined solely to torture chambers inside the buildings of the security and intelligence forces. They may also take place in public, as in the case of a 25-year-old woman who was beheaded outside her home in December last year. The offense of the woman, known as Um Haydar, was that her husband had fled the country after learning authorities suspected him of involvement in an armed Islamic resistance movement.

Amnesty International spokeswoman Catsanis describes the woman's case this way:

"Um Haydar was taken from her house in al-Karrada district, in front of her children and mother-in-law, by men belonging to Fedaiyye Saddam [a paramilitary group]. Two men held her by the arms and a third pulled her head from behind and beheaded her in front of the other residents. The beheading was also witnessed by members of the ruling Ba'ath Party in the area. The security men then took the body and the head in a plastic bag and took away the children and mother-in-law. We still don't know where they are to this day."

Amnesty International also charges the Saddam regime with instituting court-ordered punishments that amount to torture for criminal offenses. These punishments, instituted in the mid-1990's, include hand and foot amputations, branding of the forehead, and the cutting-off of ears.

The international human rights organization calls on Baghdad to end its widespread use of torture against its citizens and to observe the strong sanctions against such practices in its own penal code.

Article 333 of the Iraqi Penal Code says in part that any employee or public servant who tortures or orders torture will be punished by imprisonment. Amnesty International says it is not currently aware of any instances where officials suspected of torturing detainees have been punished.