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Report: 'Rampant Abuse in Iraq Jails'

New Amnesty International report documents wide abuse, torture and detention without trial in Iraqi prisons.


File photo of Iraqi prisoners sitting in a cramped cell at a police station in the restive Diyala Province, northeast of Baghdad. Iraq and the US military have disputed claims made by Amnesty International of torture and ill treatment in Iraqi prisons, saying the country's jails abided by international standards. (AFP/David Furst)

Amnesty International has said that tens of thousands of detainees are being held without trial in Iraqi prisons. In a new report, Amnesty said the prisoners face violent and psychological abuse, as well as other forms of mistreatment.

Amnesty said on Monday it believes that around 30,000 people are held in Iraqi jails, noting the case of several who died in custody, while cataloguing physical and psychological abuses against many others.

Last month’s handover of prisoners following the so-called 'end of US combat operations' have alarmed the The London-based human rights watchdog.

"Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Yet, the US authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by US forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights," he added.

Among other things, the Amnesty report documents thousands of arbitrary detentions and beatings of detainees to obtain forced confessions.

"The Iraqi authorities must take the firm and decisive action now... to show that they have the political will to uphold the human rights of all Iraqis, in accordance with their international  obligations and to stop the torture and other gross abuses of  detainees' rights," the report said.

Ali al-Musawi, a media advisor to Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi outgoing PM has denied the claims.

He claimed Iraqi prisons are free from political prisoners, saying all detainees have been arrested for terrorism related actions or ordinary and petty crimes. He said that 4500 prisoners have been released since April for the lack of evidence.

Moving prisoners

Amnesty's 59-page report, titled "New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq," highlights the case of several men who were subjected to torture or who died in prison. 

Among them was Riad Mohammed Saleh al-Oqaibi, 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 elsewhere in the capital.

"During interrogation, he is said to have been beaten so hard on the chest that his ribs were broken and his liver damaged," the report noted. "He died on 12 or 13 February as a result of internal bleeding."

According to the rights group, methods of torture used against detainees include beatings with cables and hose-pipes, breaking of limbs, piercing of the body with drills and psychological torture in the form of threats with rape.

In addition to the central Iraqi government, the report blamed security forces in the autonomous region of Kurdistan of also being at fault, noting one case in which a detainee had been held for more than 10 years without charge or trial. That detainee was allegedly tortured by Kurdish security police.


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Iraq's fractured penal system means the ministries of justice, interior and defence all run their own prison networks, and reports of torture and mistreatment are common, the report concluded.

Human Rights Watch said in April that Iraqi men were raped, electrocuted and beaten in a "secret prison" in Baghdad, while MPs called for an independent enquiry into prison abuse in a parliamentary debate in June 2009.

Ramze Shihab Ahmed, 68, is an Iraqi refugee in the UK. He was arrested while on a visit to Iraq in 2009, and no-one knew where he was being held or what, if anything, he had been charged with. He left to Iraq in the first place, to find out the faith of his son Omar, after receiving information he was arrested by Iraqi police.

His wife Rabiha, 63, told Al Jazeera: "Ramze was very worried about Omar. We didn't know why he had been arrested, and he said he must go to Iraq to help him," Rabiha says. "He didn't think he would be in any danger at all."

Rabiha claims her husband confessed to terrorism charges under torture. 

"They beat him. They put a plastic bag on his head until he lost consciousness, and then they woke him with electric shocks. They told him that if he didn't confess, they would make his son rape him. They put a wooden stick into his anus," she told Al Jazeera. "They have abused him in every way."

Prisons handover

Baghdad took over full responsibility for its prisons in July. The United States remains responsible for a small section of high-value detainees in Karkh Prison on the capital's outskirts.

At a ceremony on July 15 when Iraq took control of the last remaining US detention facility, Iraqi Justice Minister Dara Nureddine Dara said "the days of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners are gone."

"We will investigate and discharge any [security official] found to have committed a wrongful act," he vowed.

Amnesty noted while Iraq had announced enquiries into cases of maltreatment, torture and death in custody, the probe results had not been made public and "those responsible for abuses have not been brought to justice."

It also criticised the United States for handing over several thousand detainees to Iraqi custody "without any guarantees against torture or ill-treatment."

Security forces in Iraq retain broad powers to arrest individuals on the basis of tip-offs from informants, and Amnesty said torture is often used to extract confessions from those being held.

US diplomats have said in the past that Iraq's judicial system remains highly dependent on confessions from suspects at this point, rather than forensics or evidence.

Al Jazeera and Agencies

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