Thursday, September 3, 2015

Secret Prisons Alive And Well In Iraq

The United Nations’ Committee Against Torture was the latest organization to comment on Iraq’s continued use of torture and secret prisons. The committee made up of several experts reviewed Iraq’s history of abuse and called for the government to stop the practice. They specifically mentioned one secret facility at the Muthanna air base in Baghdad that was originally exposed in 2010, which the government said it would close down, but is still up and running to this day.

The United Nations’ committee called on Baghdad to close down its secret detention centers. The U.N. said that thousands of people were being held in secret prisons, some for as long as ten years. High threat suspects were routinely arrested without warrants and put into covert prisons run by the Defense and Interior Ministries where they were held incommunicado and tortured to obtain confessions. It wasn’t just high profile insurgents however that were thrown into these jails and abused, but people rounded up in mass arrests as well.

One specific secret location named by the committee was one at the Muthanna Air Base in western Baghdad. The center is run by the 54th Brigade of the 6th Army Division and the 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade, which reports to the prime minister. In May 2010 the facility was first exposed. Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 prisoners from the jail who said they were tortured. At that time there were 6 women and 8 children being held there. Two of the former were the wives of Islamic State leaders Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Masri who were arrested after their husbands were killed. Others however were being detained to pressure their husbands who were also prisoners. In September, Amnesty International added that more than 400 detainees were at Muthanna, and confirmed the earlier Human Rights Watch claim that torture was used there. This included electric shock, beatings, and rape by the guards. After this exposure then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denied that it was a covert prison and that he was in control of it, but the Defense Ministry later confirmed that he was. This facility has now been passed down to the Abadi administration, which continues to use it.

Abuse has a long history in Iraq and is a lasting legacy of the Saddam dictatorship. It is a common practice, accepted by the courts, and carried out by all the post-2003 governments. Its routine application is a direct threat to the democracy developing in the country, yet there are no moves by the authorities to end it.


Amnesty International, “New order, same abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq,” September 2010

Arraf, Jane al-Dulaimy, Mohammed, “Witness: Secret Iraq prison for women and children,” Christian Science Monitor, 5/26/10

Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) Human Rights Office, “Report on the judicial response to allegations of torture in Iraq,” February 2015

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Secret Jail Uncovered in Baghdad,” 2/1/11

International Crisis Group, “Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown And Withdrawal,” 10/26/10

Nebehay, Stephanie, “U.N. urges Iraq to close secret detention centres,” Reuters, 8/14/15

Parker, Ned, “Elite units under an office of Maliki’s linked to secret jail where detainees face torture, Iraq officials say,” Los Angeles Times, 7/14/11
- “The Iraq We Left Behind,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2012

United Nations Human Rights, “Committee against Torture considers the initial report of Iraq,” 7/30/15

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