On April 19, 2010 the Los Angeles Times broke the story on a secret prison in western Baghdad at the Muthanna airfield. The facility held 431 prisoners, all of which were Sunnis were who rounded up in Ninewa province in 2009. Human Rights Watch was able to interview 42 former prisoners who were held there. They detailed a series of beatings and abuses that they went through, leading Human Rights Watch to call on the Iraqi government to set up an independent commission to investigate and punish those responsible.
The detainees who were interviewed all had consistent stories and fresh wounds that they said were from their torture. All of them were arrested between September to December 2009 in and around Mosul, the capital of Ninewa, which is the last urban stronghold of the insurgency. They said that the abuse was worse when they were first brought to Muthanna. The interrogations would begin with the prisoners being suspended upside down, and then they would be beat, kicked, whipped, had their nails pulled out, and were burned with either acid or cigarettes. Prisoners that passed out as a result were usually shocked awake with electrodes. The detainees said that the point of the abuse was to get them to sign confessions, but some said the process would continue even after they complied. There were also cases of sodomy using brooms and pistols, younger prisoners being raped, forced oral sex, and having prisoners molest each other.
The next step is to see how the government deals with the issue. Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry has already investigated the Muthanna prison, which led to it being shut down. More than 100 prisoners have been released since then, and the rest have been transferred to jails run by the Ministry of Justice. Three Iraqi army officers have also been detained. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has made two responses since then. On the one hand he has denied knowing anything about the facility, while on the other he’s said that there are no secret prisons in Iraq, and that all of those in Muthanna were detained legally. The government claims that judges issued arrest warrants for everyone rounded up in Ninewa, that they were transferred to Baghdad under court order, and that judges were at Muthanna interviewing the prisoners. At the same time, the prison was run by the Baghdad Brigade, which answers directly to Maliki. Human Rights Watch also found that none of the prisoners had case numbers, and their families were never told where they were. The story is also causing problems with the ruling al-Hadbaa party in Ninewa. They claim that all of the men at Muthanna were the victims of warrant less arrests, and are threatening official protests unless all of those involved are investigated and prosecuted. Like many controversial problems in Iraq, this one is likely never to be fully dealt with. Maliki will say that he’s against torture, while denying any responsibility. A few scapegoats will be found and then everything will move on. Abuse is endemic within Iraq’s prisons and jails, largely because the justice system is based upon confessions. The Muthanna case is just the latest example. Unfortunately it’s unlikely to change anything.
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Detainees Describe Torture in Secret Jail,” 4/27/10
Latif, Nizar, “Mosul in revolt over torture claims at ‘al Maliki’s secret jail,’” The National, 4/28/10
Parker, Ned, “Secret prison revealed in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 4/19/10
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