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Rights Group Says Torture, Abuses Routine In Iraqi Prisons

According to Amnesty International, many prisoners are held in Iraq "without charge or trial," and confessions are often extracted by torture.
Amnesty International says tens of thousands of detainees are being held in Iraqi prisons without trial -- and that many are facing physical and psychological abuse or other mistreatment.

The London-based human rights watchdog issued a 59-page report today that lists several men the group says were subjected to torture or died in Iraqi prison. The report is titled "New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions And Torture In Iraq."

Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa program director, says that Iraqi authorities have failed to take effective action to stop torture and punish the perpetrators of torture, despite overwhelming evidence that torture is being used.

"Our main concerns are the great number of detainees who are held without charge or trial, the length or period that some of them have been held," Smart says. "And the fact that their number has swelled in recent months with the handover by the U.S. forces of detainees they were holding into Iraq security custody when Iraqi security forces have a very bad record of torture and ill-treatment of detainees."

He adds that Amnesty is calling attention to the situation and to the need to address it, "and, really, restore the rule of law in Iraq."

Secret Torture Prisons

Among the individuals listed in the Amnesty International report are Riad Muhammad Salih al-Oqaibi. He was arrested in September 2009 and held in a detention facility in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone before being transferred to a secret detention facility in the capital.

Amnesty International says Oqaibi was beaten so hard on the chest during interrogation by Iraqi authorities that his ribs were broken and his liver damaged. It says Oqaibi died in mid-February as a result of internal bleeding caused by those beatings.

Smart says Oqaibi's treatment does not appear to have been an isolated case, as detainees "are being taken off often to secret detention centers. A number of these have been discovered and uncovered."

He notes that those detained in such centers "have routinely been tortured or ill-treated -- by being suspended by the arms or the ankles for long periods, by being beaten, clubbed, hit with hoses [or] pipes, and, in some cases, with electric shocks [or] being threatened with rape."

Beating Out Confessions

Smart says Iraqi prison authorities in many cases appear to be using torture to extract confessions from detainees, "which could then be taken before the courts, if they are prosecuted, as the evidence against them."

In some cases, he adds, "it does seem that people have been forced to confess. They claim the confessions were false and they've confessed to crimes that carry the death penalty. In some cases, they've been sentenced to death and in some cases, we believe, [they've been] executed."

Amnesty International says security forces in the autonomous region of Kurdistan also are at fault. The group's report notes one case in which a detainee has been held for more than 10 years without charge or trial and was allegedly tortured by the Kurdish security police.

Another international rights watchdog, Human Rights Watch, issued a similar report in April alleging that Iraqi men were raped, electrocuted, and beaten in a "secret prison" in Baghdad. In mid-2009, Iraq's parliament called for an independent inquiry into prison abuse.

Violence Fills A Vacuum

Baghdad took over full responsibility for prisons in the country in July, with the United States only responsible for a small section of high-value detainees in Karkh Prison near Baghdad.

But Iraq's penal system is fractured --- with the Justice, Interior, and Defense ministries all running their own detention facilities.

Smart says that a political deadlock that has prevented the formation of a new Iraqi government is also contributing to a situation in which torture and mistreatment of detainees is not uncommon.

"There's a political vacuum in Iraq with uncertainty as to the future. Armed groups opposed to the government have been exploiting that. There's been a further rise in attacks and deaths of civilians, Smart says.

This "factionalism," Smart says, is "also affecting the way that people get detained, who is detained, where they are detained, who has authority over them -- and we're not seeing a commitment, political will on the part of the government, to reestablish the rule of law, to hold the security forces accountable, to deal with torture and, indeed, to give justice using the standards of 'fair trial' to the victims of human rights violations."

Although Amnesty International is trying to catalog all the cases it can in which people are being held without charge in Iraqi jails, Smart says it's difficult to get any clear picture from Iraqi security forces about detainees in Iraq.

But he says Amnesty estimates there are about 30,000 Iraqi detainees who have not been charged with any crime or faced a trial.

written by Ron Synovitz
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