|Iraqi detainees in Baquba.
(Eros Hoagland for The New York Times)
Tens of thousands of detainees are being held without trial in Iraqi prisons and face violent and psychological abuse as well as other forms of mistreatment, Amnesty International said on Monday. The London-based human rights watchdog estimates 30,000 people are held in Iraqi jails, noting several are known to have died in custody, while cataloguing physical and psychological abuses against others.
However, the deputy justice minister dismissed the report as “baseless” and a US military spokesman insisted Iraqi detention facilities met international standards.
“Iraq’s security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees’ rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity,” said Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director Malcolm Smart.
“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.”
Amnesty’s 59-page report, entitled “New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq,” lists several men it says 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 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 said. “He died on 12 or 13 February as a result of internal bleeding.”
According to the rights group, methods of torture used have included beatings with cables and hosepipes, breaking of limbs, piercing of the body with drills and psychological torture in the form of threats of rape.
It said security forces in the autonomous region of Kurdistan were also at fault, noting one case in which a detainee had been held for more than 10 years without charge or trial and was allegedly tortured by Kurdish security police.
Amnesty also criticised the United States for handing over several thousand detainees to Iraqi custody “without any guarantees against torture or ill-treatment.”
Iraq’s fractured penal system means the justice, interior and defence ministries all run their own prisons, and reports of torture and mistreatment are not uncommon.
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 inquiry into prison abuse in a parliamentary debate in June 2009.
Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim, however, dismissed the Amnesty report and allegations of torture in the justice ministry’s prisons.
“All of the people arrested or held in our prisons are held according to arrest warrants and accusations against them,” he told AFP. There is no torture at all, and this international report is not true and it is baseless.”
Lieutenant Colonel Bob Owen, a US military spokesman, added that detention facilities were “inspected frequently and abide by the rule of law and international standards for detainee care and management.”
“The US is not violating any international agreements in Iraq in respect to detainees,” he said.
Iraq’s human rights minister and a spokesman for the Kurdistan regional government were not immediately available to comment.
Baghdad assumed full responsibility for prisons in the country in July, with the United States responsible only for about 200 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 here, Justice Minister Dara Nureddine Dara said “the days of mistreatment and abuse of prisoners are gone.”
“We will investigate and discharge anyone found to have committed a wrongful act,” he said.
Amnesty noted while Iraq had announced inquiries 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.”
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.