Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Amnesty International Finds Abuse Going On In Iraq With Impunity

In February 2011, Amnesty International (AI) released, “Broken Bodies, Tortured Minds, Abuse And Neglect Of Detainees In Iraq.” Amnesty reported that torture and abuse were common in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and that similar conditions continue to exist to this day. Since 2004, prisoners have been systematically tortured, and AI believes that will persist into the future with nothing being done about it.

The insurgency that took off shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion led government forces to conduct arbitrary arrests, hold prisoners without charges and trials, and abuse and torture suspects. Some have been held incommunicado, and some have been placed in secret prisons. In April 2010 for example, a secret detention facility was discovered in Muthanna Airport in Baghdad, with many prisoners having been tortured. In January and February 2011, the Los Angeles Times, and Human Rights Watch revealed abuses at Camp Honor and Camp Justice in Baghdad. Cases like these have gone on with impunity despite official announcements that investigations were being created to look into them. No results have ever been made public, and no one has ever been punished.

Iraqi officials are increasingly reporting these cases themselves. Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry’s 2009 annual report said it had received 509 allegations of torture by security forces. Amnesty believes the actual number is much higher. In May 2009, a delegation from parliament’s human rights committee visited Kadhimiya women’s prison in Baghdad, and heard two women say that they had been raped after their arrest. In June, prisoners at the Rusafa prison went on a hunger strike against mistreatment. A lawmaker claimed that 21 prisoners at that facility and in Diwaniya prison, had been raped. That same month, the human rights committee in Qadisiyah accused security forces of torturing prisoners. A video was also found from an Iraqi prison and posted on the internet that showed prisoners being whipped and shocked with electricity. Just when the Amnesty report was released, six security officials told Reuters that torture and abuse were on-going in Iraq. They said Islamist terrorist suspects got it the worse, especially those that bragged about their exploits. Reuters also reported that the Supreme Judiciary Council got more than 400 complaints last year from detainees or their families about mistreatment. Only 90 of hose cases were ever probed however. Again, despite these official reports and announcements, nothing has been done about the prisons, or the abuse.

Amnesty has received evidence of rape, threat of rape, beatings, electric shock, suspension by limbs, the use of drills, asphyxiation, taking off nails, and breaking limbs being applied to men, women, and children. The report included the story of Ramze Shihad Ahmed, a 68 year old man with dual Iraqi and English citizenship. He returned to Iraq to free his son. Upon his arrival, he was arrested, held incommunicado, tortured, and raped with a stick. He and his son were then beaten, suffocated, given electric shock to the genitals, and suspended by their ankles. Interrogators threatened to rape Ahmed’s wife in front of him, and told his son that he would be forced to rape his father if they didn’t admit to a series of killings. Both men ended up signing confessions.

The main cause of the abuse in Iraq is the criminal justice system, which relies upon confessions. Torture and abuse have been common ways to extract a confession both before and after 2003. Those are accepted in court even if there is clear evidence of abuse.

Baghdad Jail, 2009 (New York Times)
Even without all the abuses, Iraqi prisons and jails are known for being overcrowded and unhealthy. On May 12, 2010 around 100 prisoners were put into two vans that had a capacity of only 20 people each to be transferred from Camp Taji to Rusafa prison in Baghdad. The vans had no ventilation or windows, and when they arrived at their destination, 22 detainees collapsed, with seven later dying. On February 7, 2011 prisoners in Hillah went on a hunger strike. The prison they were in was built to hold 750, but had almost 1,600. Health problems and sickness are constant problems in prisons as well.

After Amnesty released “Broken Bodies, Tortured Minds,” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office denied its findings. It said such papers only hurt Iraq’s image, and said that that there were no secret prisons and stories of torture were untrue. That has been the general response by all three post-2003 Iraqi governments. When human rights groups accuse the authorities of mistreatment, they say nothing happened. When Iraqi officials complain about abuses, Baghdad says it will investigate, but then there’s no follow up. Both reflect the official neglect of this issue, and the tacit support of the use of these extreme tactics. As long as that is Baghdad’s stance, the mistreatment and overcrowding in the country’s jails and prisons will continue.


Amnesty International, “Broken Bodies, Tortured Minds, Abuse And Neglect Of Detainees In Iraq,” February 2011

Brosek, Raman, “Amnesty International report compromises Iraq’s credibility says PM advisor,” AK News, 2/10/11

Juhl, Bushra, “Lawyers lead anti-government protest in Baghdad,” Associated Press, 2/10/11

Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Torture common for Iraq prisoners: security sources,” Reuters, 2/8/11


amagi said...

Well, if yesterday's story regarding belated prosecution in the matter of fake bomb detectors is any indiciation, we will probably see today's abuse claims tackled some time around 2015.

Still, though... better late than never.

Joel Wing said...

Until Iraq changes it's legal system from confessions to evidence based prosecutions, which I don't see happening, abuse will probably continue. It's just too easy in the country and many others to just beat a confession out of someone.

AndrewSshi said...

Forgive a monumentally ignorant question, but doesn't the new Iraqi constitution have basic rights of the accused built in?

Because there's a lot of unrest still in Iraq. It shouldn't be too hard to at least focus some of that on protecting rights of the accused. There's even a broad-based constituency: Maliki's arrested enough Sadrists *and* Sunnis that anyone who wanted to do something about prison abuse could cobble together a strong enough coalition to do so.

Joel Wing said...


The Iraqi constitution includes rule of law, due process, presumption of innocence, right to a lawyer, and bans torture and abuse.

The problem as with many things in Iraq, is that politicians aren't interested in enforcing these rules.

You brought up the Sadrists, they ran a lot of the local police in southern Iraq and were in the Interior Ministry and were doing things like using drills on people. If they brought up torture it would only be as a political attack upon others as some tried to do with Maliki when the Wikileaks documents came out.

There have been other politicians who seem more genuine about the matter, but they haven't been many, so they couldn't apply any political pressure to get anything done.

Until there's political will, there won't be changes to the judicial system and the prisons.