Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Secret Baghdad Prison Discovered By Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry

As recently reported, the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor released an evaluation of Iraq’s human rights situation in March 2010. One of its main complaints was that Iraq lacked rule of law due to arbitrary arrests, torture, mistreatment, overcrowding, and poor facilities. The Los Angeles Times revealed the latest example of all of these when it ran an article on the discovery of a secret prison at the Muthanna Airport in western Baghdad. 

The prison was found to have over four hundred detainees who were all Sunnis rounded up as part of the Ninewa Wall security campaign launched on October 3, 2009. Ninewa is one of the most violent provinces remaining in Iraq. As a result, it saw four military crackdowns from 2008 to 2009. Immediately after Ninewa Wall started, the provincial council, governor, and citizens in the governorate all complained. They said that none of them was informed of the operation, and that innocent civilians were being rounded up. On October 8, for example, around 150 people demonstrated in the provincial capital Mosul claiming that the Ninewa Operations Command had arrested 350 people. It was also noted that 100 prisoners had been transferred to Baghdad at that time, which the Ninewa council also complained about. 

Eventually 431 prisoners were taken to Baghdad out of fear that they would be released if they stayed in Ninewa. The security forces got a court order and transferred them to a facility in Camp Honor, located in the Green Zone within Baghdad. Later the prisoners were sent to the Muthanna airport secret prison. There they faced two sets of interrogators. At first, they were questioned by investigative judges, which is a normal procedure, but then later in the day members of the Baghdad Brigade came in, a unit under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s command who are in charge of protecting the Green Zone. It was then that the abuse began.

On March 10, 2010 the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry found out about the detainees and secret facility from family members who were looking for their missing relatives. When they gained access to the Muthanna jail they found that the prisoners had been handcuffed together in stress positions, and at least 100 of them had been tortured. That included electric shock, sodomy, and rape. One prisoner died due to his mistreatment. A U.S. Embassy report on the incident claimed that at least four of the Baghdad Brigade members who questioned the prisoners were indicted in 2006 for selling Sunni prisoners to Shiite militias so that they could be killed. Guards were also extorting money from the detainees so that they could make phone calls to their families.

When the story broke in April Prime Minister Maliki declared that he would shut down the prison. Already 75 detainees have been set free, and 276 were sent to regular jails. While Maliki claimed that he was against torture, he said that it was due to his political rivals. He also stated that he was justified to use secret prisons and the Baghdad Brigade to secure the country. It was a positive sign that the Human Rights Ministry acted quickly when it found out about the Muthanna jail, and that Maliki said that he would shut down the facility and release some of the occupants. At the same time, it was farcical that the Prime Minister blamed torture on his enemies when it was found going on in a prison under his direct command. That practice is also unlikely to end in Iraq any time soon because not only does it have a long tradition within the country that the overthrow of Saddam did not end, but a justice system that relies upon confessions usually leads to abuse in developing countries.


Aswat al-Iraq, “Detainees’ parents demonstrate in Mosul,” 10/8/09
- “NOC returned 100 detainees to Baghdad- official,” 10/3/09
- “Over 200 arrested under Mosul’s fresh security operations,” 10/5/09

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10

Parker, Ned, “Secret prison revealed in Baghdad,” Los Angeles Times, 4/19/10


Anonymous said...


You had one terrorist attack on 9/11 that killed roughly around 4000 people and the rule of law was pushed a side, Guantanamo Bay was opened, and torture was used. This is a fact and it has now been reversed by the Obama.

Iraq came out of decades or War, sanctions and a very brutal dictatorship. Then into a chaotic, ill planned occupation, followed by extremely violent Sunni lead insurgency that targeted shia. This EVENTUALLY lead to the shia fighting back, and defeating the sunnis within 1-2 years and forcing the tribes to turn against Al-Qaeda.

So of course torture is used. You cannot blame the Iraqi people for supporting torture in order to crush the insurgency once and for all. I’m personally against that, but ask me that after my father has been beheaded because he is a shia or my sister has been raped, or my house has been blown or mum, or maimed in a suicide attack in my cousin’s funeral who was killed praying in a shia mosque.

Unfortunately the innocent will suffer, however as soon as the people of Mosul turn against the insurgents, the sooner the arrests will stop.

The Prime Minister has done a great job by crushing the shia militias and bringing security. I fully support secret prisons until the war is won. The reason is because many sunni politicians are themselves involved in terrorism or are sympathetic, therefore they will try to free many of the prisoners as possible. This cannot go on.

I know this sounds horrible, but only when your nation has suffered like mine, when your people have bled like mine, than you can judge me.

Joel, your blog is amazing. Maybe some good news now and again would be nice as well (-:


Joel Wing said...


I think a problem with your argument is that you are assuming that torture was just started to deal with the militants in the country. From reports I've read, it was 1) a continuation of practices that they had used in the past under Saddam rather than a specific response to terrorism, and 2) Almost anyone that is arrested has the possibility to get abused whether they get detained for terrorism or common crime because the authorities want confessions. That's why I think that even if all the insurgents, militias, etc. were to get wiped out, there would still be abuses in Iraq, and that's common in many developing countries as well.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, and I think I did mention Saddam’s terrible regime that definitely brutalised our society, and that is one of my points, and that it would take time for Iraq to heal.
I also agree that the judicial system is not as advanced as the west. We still require confessions rather than evidence. However as far as I know forensic labs have already been opened up and soon more will follow. This will take a longer process. However you mentioned this, the ministry of Justice did a good job, and it shows that there is hope in Iraq and as long as there is democracy, these things will get tackled when more people like myself will start to protest against torture once the insurgency is defeated. Until then, even educated people like me will remain silent.

Anon said...

Joel, do you not think there should be a distinction between endemic poor practises in dealing with prisoners (which appears to be the norm in Iraq), and government sponsored abuse during targeted campaigns (such as appears to be more in this case)? I was previously under the impression that the problem exists not because the government supported it, but because they did not have the will or resources to do otherwise. But that no longer seems the case.

For the above: can you provide information where such practises have impacted on the activity of militants? If anything, you'd think these serve as a recruiting tool.
It's very contraversial to be making comments that you would give support to such practises, and probably incorrect in the case of the Iraqi people. I certainly would not, and even Maliki himself has evidently tried to distance himself from such abuses.

Joel Wing said...


In a way I think both are part of the same problem. Iraq has a weak judicial system that is open to abuse like many developing countries. I think that's the root of the problem. Right now the system is flooded with too many prisoners, lack of judges, etc. because so many have been rounded up during the fighting. Abuse and torture appear to be endemic whether people get picked up by central government forces or Kurdish ones. I would hope that whenever the the insurgency ends the torture at least would lesson, but I would still expect the abuse to continue.

As for Maliki, according to blogger Iraq Pundit he was on TV with the Human Rights Ministry and when she criticized the abuse and torture in the Muthanna prison, he said "but aren't they all criminals?" I'm not saying he directly ordered the torture or knew about it, but he's taking the same stance he does with corruption. He says he's against it, but he really isn't doing anything about it. In fact, there was one report that said he had even made an offer to step down from the premiership if his opponents would guarantee him that they would not look into cases of abuse and torture while he was in office, along with other things, so he just may know more than he's letting on, and is afraid of the consequences once he steps down.

As for your last point about using abuse for recruiting by the insurgents, I haven't heard anything.

سحاب Sahab said...

thank u for ur studise about Iraq
am from Iraq i live in baghdad now
u can see my blog to know more
i add this report for ned parker to my blog too

Security In Iraq Apr 15-21, 2024

The Islamic State remained quiet in Iraq for the second consecutive week while a mysterious explosion at a Hashd base led to another attack ...