Abuse and torture in new Iraq

Jim Lobe:

Despite the millions of dollars spent by the US and other nations to improve their performance, Iraqi police still routinely abuse and often torture detainees, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Methods of torture include routine beatings using cables, hosepipes and other implements; kicking, slapping, and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded or handcuffed continuously over several days, according to the 93-page report.

Based on investigations carried out in Iraq between July and October last year, including interviews with 90 former prisoners, the report, “The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-Treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody”, also found that arrests were frequently carried out without warrants on the basis of information provided by “secret informants”.

Contrary to the provisions of Iraq’s Code of Criminal Procedure, which requires a defendant to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, the majority of ex-detainees had been held for a far longer period. The detention system was also found to be rife with corruption, according to the report, which noted that police officials routinely demand bribes for visits by family members and attorneys, for appearances before a judge, and even for food and water. The new report comes amid an ongoing cascade of news about serious abuses committed against detainees by US soldiers in Iraq. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released new documents Monday that detailed formal complaints of abuses by soldiers, often Special Operations Forces, of Iraqi civilians, including sexual humiliation, burning with cigarettes, and even forced sodomy, very few of which were followed up aggressively by military investigators.

In one case, a 73-year-old Iraqi woman captured by SOF testified that she was stripped and humiliated by a man who “straddled her ...and attempted to ride her like a horse” before hitting her with a stick and shoving it into her anus. Although an investigation was launched, the case’s disposition remains classified. ACLU director Anthony Romero described many investigations as woefully inadequate”.

It was in June 2003 that the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority transferred responsibility for the management of all detention to the Ministries of Interior and Justice, along with a memorandum that set out basic standards for their operation, although the criminal justice system did not begin until Sep. 2003.

Despite the presence of US and other foreign advisers, however, those standards have been largely ignored, according to the report, which noted that many detainees were deprived of adequate food and water and crammed into “standing-room-only” cells with no room to lay down to sleep. The report stressed that the Iraqi police face a daunting situation given the wave of insecurity and crime that has hardly abated since the US invasion nearly two years ago. In just the last four months of 2004, it noted, some 1,300 police and scores of other members of security forces died at the hands of insurgents.

HRW investigators also interviewed more than 60 criminal suspects in Baghdad, virtually all of whom were tortured and then forced to sign a confession without knowing its contents. The International Committee of the Red Cross documented many of the abuses in a report to the US government in Feb. 2004, but it is not clear what, if anything, Washington did about it, according to the report. — IPS