Abuse and torture rife in Iraqi prisons

An Amnesty International report has revealed endemic human rights abuses and a lack of accountability throughout the system

abuse rife in Iraqi prisons
Up to 30,000 prisoners are detained without rights and are frequently tortured in Iraq Photograph: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Up to 30,000 prisoners, including many veterans of the US detention system, remain detained without rights in Iraq and are frequently tortured, or abused, according to a report by Amnesty International.

The study has found that the human rights situation remains dire in Iraq, with arbitrary arrests and secret detention common, as well as a lack of accountability throughout the security forces.

The abuses are systemic, the report claims, with alleged victims having little redress or access to trial — in many cases for longer than two years.

The allegations were released on Monday in a report titled New Order, Same Abuses; Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq. They come as the US military steadily disengages from Iraq and as US diplomats paint a picture of a nascent state, gradually coming to terms with its human rights obligations.

Amnesty's report instead describes a detention system that has not evolved since Saddam Hussein's regime, in which human rights abuses were endemic.

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

The US military has heavily mentored the Iraqi security forces and claims they are ready to step into the void created by the departure of around 60,000 US troops over the past year, and the withdrawal of the remaining 49,000 scheduled to take place over the next 15 months.

Until July, US troops ran a large detention centre, known as Camp Cropper, in a military base near Baghdad airport. That facility has now been handed over to the Iraqi government, along with a second facility on the Kuwaiti border that was closed last September.

The report suggests Sunni Muslims account for the "vast majority" of detainees currently held by Iraq. It says unlawful detentions are taking place in central Iraq, as well as the Kurdish north. However, it claims that there are fewer reported abuses in the Kurdish area.

The existence of at least one secret prison was disclosed in April, when The Los Angeles Times revealed that an undeclared prison was being run in the Muthanna Airport near central Baghdad.

Amnesty claims that one British/Iraqi dual national is among those detained and tortured. It says Ramze Shihab Ahmed was imprisoned last October, after returning to Iraq to search for his son.

Ahmed finally contacted his wife in March, telling her he had been locked up in the Muthanna Airport, where he had been electrocuted and suffocated with plastic bags as part of attempts to force him to confess to being a member of al-Qaida.

Ahmed's wife, Rabiha al-Qassab, 63, pleaded with the British government to intervene. "What my husband has suffered at the hands of his interrogators is inhumane and sickening. I'm desperately worried about him."

"He already had health problems before all this and was very brave to return to Iraq on behalf of his son 'Omar in the first place."

Iraq's Justice Ministry, which runs the country's official prisons, has made efforts to renovate once-infamous jailhouses such as Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad. Abu Ghraib, which was made notorious by a litany of abuses at the hands of US troops in 2004, was re-opened in late-2008, boasting vocational training and improved conditions for inmates. However it was ransacked and burned by detainees within weeks and has since re-closed.

Justice Ministry officials have constantly pointed at Iraq's inefficient judicial system as a key reason for abuses, claiming they have no control over the security forces.

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