Global Policy Forum

Local NGO Documents Prisoner Abuse


Integrated Regional Information Networks
February 20, 2006

An NGO established this year to assist former prison detainees who have suffered abuses in prison has received an overwhelming initial response. "This organisation has already received nearly 125 reports of prisoner abuse inside Iraqi prisons," said Khalid Rabia'a, spokesman for the Prisoners' Association for Justice (PAJ), which officially began its work six weeks ago.

According to Rabia'a, former detainees often reported that they were beaten with cables, kicked in the testicles, burnt with cigarettes, forced to wear hoods for days at a time and forced to sign confessions while under interrogation.

One former detainee interviewed by IRIN spoke about treatment he received after being arrested for alleged involvement with the ongoing Iraqi insurgency. "I was tortured by the Iraqi army and they used horrible ways to get information out of me," said Fahed Ahmed. "But after three months, they released me without any proof I was helping the insurgency." Ahmed said that beatings with cables was a "common punishment", and further claimed he had been raped twice while in detention by soldiers of the Iraqi Army.

Officials at the Ministry of Justice, meanwhile, say the fact that Iraqi prisons are often run by coalition forces makes it more difficult to rectify the situation. "It will be difficult for the justice ministry to learn about all the problems concerning the abuse of detainees, although we've already begun reviewing all the cases," said Zacarias Ali, a senior ministry official. "But the country's prisons must be brought under our control, not under that of the US."

According to the Ministry of Defence, nearly 30,000 detainees have had their cases reviewed by the justice ministry since August 2004, and more than 15,000 have been freed from local prisons. The reviewed cases – 70 percent of whom were accused of conspiring with the ongoing insurgency – revealed thousands of detentions without charge.

Allegations of abuse have been levelled at US, UK and Iraqi authorities, which currently share control of Iraq's national prison system. US forces retain command of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison and an airport detention camp in Baghdad, while British forces run the Um Qasr prison in southern Iraq. The Iraqi army and police, meanwhile, are responsible for all other detention facilities.

In mid-November of last year, 173 detainees were found by US troops at an interior ministry building in Baghdad, bearing signs of torture, malnutrition and mistreatment. Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari ordered an investigation into the abuses at the time, but no results have been released to date.

In April 2004, a series of photographs of inmates being abused by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib led to worldwide condemnation and the prosecution of the soldiers involved. Last week, though, new images of abuse emerged from the same prison, showing images of the apparent killing, torture and sexual humiliation of prisoners. The British military has also been criticised following the release this month of video footage showing UK soldiers savagely beating four young Iraqi civilians in southern Iraq in 2004.

Besides common allegations of mistreatment and abuse, conditions inside many Iraqi prisons are reportedly sub-standard. "Most Iraqis who have been arrested are incarcerated in jails under conditions that fall below international standards and are in calamitous need of reform," said Hamam Ali, a senior official at the Ministry of Human Rights.

In the meantime, Iraqi officials say they are largely helpless to do anything as long as prison facilities remain under foreign control. "After the last scandal with the abuse of young men by British troops in the south and the new pictures released from Abu Ghraib, we've urged the US military to hand over prisons to local authorities," said Ra'ad Sinawi, a senior defence ministry official.

Along with legal assistance, the PAJ offers counselling for trauma victims and helps families to relocate relatives who have been arrested. "Nearly 50 families have approached us to help them find loved ones," Rabia'a said. "In some cases, they've been missing for more than five months."

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