Iraq's Interior Minister has defended the treatment of abused prisoners found in a government bunker, declaring that "no one was beheaded or killed". But while Bayan Jabr insisted that the allegations of torture were "exaggerated" fresh details emerged of the horrific conditions endured by the captives.
Witnesses said many of the 169 men and youths were emaciated and looked like "Holocaust survivors". Some had suffered beatings so severe that their skin had peeled off, and three men had been kept locked in a cupboard where they could not move. All the others were packed, blindfolded, into three rooms nine feet long and 11 feet wide.
Instruments of torture and beating were found hidden in a false ceiling. Witnesses also said that the guards in charge of the detainees, all but three of whom were Sunnis, at an interior ministry bunker in central Baghdad, wore combat fatigues of the Shia Badr Brigades militia. "Because of the appalling overcrowding, some of the most badly treated were squashed on to floors and their skins got stuck to the floor," said a witness.
Mr Jabr, a former member of the militia, insisted that only seven of the prisoners showed marks of torture, and those responsible will be punished. He continued: "You can be proud of our forces. Our forces respect human rights. We are the government and we are responsible for protecting you."
Those being held were "the most dangerous criminal terrorists", the minister said at a press conference. He added: "Those criminal killers inside the bunkers were not Pakistanis or Iranians. Those are your Arab brothers that came here to kill your sons." Asked about one prisoner who was paralysed, Mr Jabr said he was a Shia who had been responsible for four car bombings resulting in 66 deaths in return for $1,000 (£582) from insurgents.
The prisoners were found by American troops and Iraqi police trying to trace a 15-year-old boy whose family had access to a US congressman.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.