Iraqi forces accused of torturing detainees
By Roula Khalaf in London and Steve Negus in Baghdad
Published: January 25 2005 00:02 | Last updated: January 25 2005 00:02
Iraqi security forces stand accused by a leading international human rights organisation of committing systematic torture against detainees, raising alarm over the conduct of Iraq's post-war interim government less than a week before the country's first democratic elections.
In a report issued on Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch calls on the Iraqi government to investigate widespread abuses and urges the US to increase the number of advisers at detention centres run by the Iraqi ministry of the interior.
"The Iraqi interim government, led by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and presented to the international community as a sign that the violence and abuses of the Saddam Hussein government are a thing of the past, appears to be actively taking part, or is at least complicit, in these grave violations of fundamental human rights," says the report.
"Nor has the United States, the UK, or other involved governments publicly taken up these issues as a matter of concern." Sabah Kathim, spokesman for the interior minister in Baghdad, on Monday said he had never come across "complaints of this nature to the police" or even a single case of torture. He said allegations would be investigated, but that he was sceptical of a report issued days before the election.
Human Rights Watch based its findings on interviews with 90 detainees last year, mostly in central Iraq. Seventy-two said they had been tortured or ill-treated when they were interrogated, complaining of being beaten with cables, hosepipes and metal rods and being suspended from the wrists for long periods with their hands tied behind their backs. The cases included many members of the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia that rebelled against US troops last year.
Iraqi torture of prisoners seen as open secret
Mohammed Khalaf al-Jumaily, a judge in west Baghdad's major crimes court, says he regularly sees suspects hauled before his bench who have been clearly badly beaten.
The report represents the first independent examination of the behaviour of the Iraqi security, following the scandal involving US troops at Abu Ghraib prison and the more recent controversy over the conduct of British troops. The Bush administration has presented Sunday's elections to the national assembly as a new beginning for Iraq and the start of a transition to democracy for the region as a whole.
"The last justification for the war is that we want to make life better for Iraqis but then at least we must have a government that honours and respects people," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW's Middle East and North Africa division.
According to the report, only two to four hours of the 32-hour training programme for new police recruits are devoted to human-rights-related issues, including the treatment of detainees and principles of policing in a democratic society. Ms Whitson said the conduct of Iraqi troops threatened to undermine the case against Saddam Hussein and other former high-ranking officials, who are expected to face trial later this year.
The report alleges that the abuse is aggravated by the corruption of officials. Some detainees said they were threatened with indefinite detention unless they were willing to pay for their release. Some families also reported that they had to bribe police officials to gain access to prisoners.
"We recognise things are very bad in Iraq and that there's a security emergency and police officers are themselves a target," said Ms Whitson. "But what kind of security do they think they're building with torture?"
The Pentagon declined to comment, saying it had not yet seen the report. The UK Foreign Office said London condemned all forms of abuse and had raised the issue of conditions in Iraqi detention facilities with Baghdad and would continue to do so.