Amnesty International slams Iraq over prison torture

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 14, 2010 

BAGHDAD — Amnesty International released a report this week that details allegations of torture at Iraq-run prisons and makes the case that they're no better than the detention centers that the U.S. military ran here from 2003 until earlier this year. It raises yet more questions about the Iraqi security forces that the Obama administration ceded authority to when it celebrated the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.

"New Order, Same Abuses" says that several detainees have died in Iraqi custody due to torture or abuse by Iraqi interrogators and prison guards. It says that tens of thousands are being held without charges and that guards won't confirm missing persons' whereabouts to their relatives, which, for Iraqi families who'd lost loved ones, was one of the most devastating aspects of the U.S. occupation.

Some 30,000 detainees are being held in Iraq, Amnesty estimates. About a third of those were transferred from U.S. custody as American forces ended "combat operations" earlier this year. They're at risk of beatings, psychological abuse, forced confessions and mysterious disappearance, the human rights group said.

In a statement, the group's Middle East director, Malcolm Smart, said: "Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity. Yet the U.S. 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 catalog of illegality, violence and abuse."

Not for breakfast-table reading is Amnesty's own catalog of what Iraqi prisoners are at risk of:

Methods of torture include beating with cables and hosepipes, prolonged suspension by the limbs, administration of electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, breaking of limbs, removal of finger and toenails, asphyxiation and piercing of the body with drills, and psychological torture such as threats of rape.

Not that Iraq doesn't have its own sordid history with prisons. As an Al Jazeera report noted, Saddam Hussein's regime was notorious for terrible abuses and an utter lack of due process. Iraq's new order may be no better.

An Iraqi news agency, al Akhbariya, asked the government for a reply. The Justice Ministry said that it didn't have prisons to accommodate 30,000 people, calling the figure "greatly exaggerated."

About 200 Iraqi prisoners remain in U.S. custody in Iraq at the Baghdad facility once known as Camp Cropper, where American guards are watching over members of the Sunni militant group al Qaida in Iraq, former Saddam regime officials and other reportedly dangerous men. There are problems there, too, but of a different nature. Last week, four prisoners slipped past the U.S. military guards, and they're still at large.

Read the report.

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