In April 2010 and January 2011, the Los Angeles Times broke two stories about abuse by Iraqi security forces at prisons under the direct control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Times first reported on a secret prison run by the Baghdad Brigade at the Muthanna Airport in Baghdad that held 431 prisoners, all of which were Sunnis from Ninewa. They were first taken to Camp Honor in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and then to the Muthanna facility where some of them were tortured, raped, and went through other abuses. Next, the Times focused upon Camp Honor, which is jointly run by the Baghdad Brigade and the Counter-Terrorism Service, both of which are under the direct control of the premier. After each piece, Human Rights Watch investigated the allegations in more detail. That led to a new report by the organization that provides more details about the workings of what’s been termed “Maliki’s forces,” and the detention facilities they run.
In “Iraq: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad,” Human Rights Watch collected information about three prisons run by the Baghdad Brigade and the Counter-Terrorism Service. The three facilities were all in Baghdad: the Muthanna airport prison, Camp Justice in Kadhimiya, and the Green Zone’s Camp Honor.
The government has tried to deny that any of the three jails were under the control of Maliki. In April 2010 the premier described the Muthanna facility as a transit spot under the jurisdiction of the Defense Ministry. Maliki also claimed that the Justice Ministry would take over Camp Cropper after the Los Angeles Times initially reported on it, while the Deputy Interior Minister denied that the Baghdad Brigade controlled any jails in the country. First, Human Rights Watch found a letter from May 2010 from the Defense Ministry to the Human Rights Ministry saying that it had no connection to Muthanna. Second, a letter was found from August 2010 from the Justice Minister to the Commander of the Armed Forces Office that controls the Baghdad Brigade and the Counter Terrorism Service, and which Maliki heads, asking for permission to move prisoners from Camp Honor. Another classified document from October from the Justice Minister said that the Baghdad Brigade and Counter-Terrorism Service prevented families and lawyers from visiting the camp. All these examples belie the official story that Maliki is not in control of these prisons. Ministries would not be writing to each other saying they had nothing to do with a facility, and having to ask one of the premier’s offices for permission to do anything at them if that was true.
There is also proof that elements of the government were preventing inspections of the camps. In November 2010, 280 prisoners were transferred from Camp Honor to Camp Justice before the former was to be reviewed by an international group. Human Rights Watch obtained a letter from the Justice Minister to the Commander of the Armed Forces dated January 13, 2011 that said that the Baghdad Brigade stopped a prison inspection by the Human Rights Ministry. After the Los Angeles Times article in January, the Justice Ministry claimed that the International Red Cross had gone to Camp Honor. Human Rights Watch contacted the Red Cross, who denied that any such visit had taken place because the government would not agree to their criteria, such as unfettered access to the entire prison and detainees. Sources in the government told Human Rights Watch that officials had prevented the Human Rights Ministry from doing a check on Camp Honor for more than a year. The fact that authorities were not allowing independent inspections led Human Rights Watch to worry about abuses going on at the facilities controlled by Maliki. Already, the group had documented cases of electric shock, beatings, and rape at the Muthanna airport camp after it was exposed in early 2010. Given that history, and Iraq’s justice system being based upon confessions, it would be no surprise if mistreatment was on going at one or all of the camps.
Iraq was known to be an abusive state during the Saddam era, and it seems that little has changed since then. Shortly after the 2003 invasion, the Coalition began complaining that Iraqi forces were mistreating prisoners. From the Coalition Provisional Authority, to Iyad Allawi’s interim government, to Jaafari’s premiership, to now Maliki’s second term, prisoners have been placed in overcrowded jails, beaten, tortured, etc. Since this treatment has persisted for so long, it can only be described as an institutional problem within Iraq’s armed forces, police, and justice system. With several governments, including the current one, showing no interest in solving this problem, it will not end anytime soon.
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad,” 2/1/11
Parker, Ned, “Alleged abuse at Iraqi detention center prompts oversight concerns,” Los Angeles Times, 1/23/11
- “Secret prison revealed in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 4/19/10