Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Nothing Is Going To Be Done About Abuse In Iraq’s Prisons

On April 19, 2010 the Los Angeles Times broke the news about a secret prison at the Muthanna airport in Baghdad. 431 prisoners were being held there, around half of which had been tortured. Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry investigated the matter, leading to the facility being shut down, and most of the prisoners being transferred to the Justice Ministry. This was just the latest example of the systematic abuse that occurs in Iraq’s jails and prisons. It not only happens to those accused of terrorism, but common criminals as well. Since the Iraqi justice system is based upon confessions, beating one out of a suspect is usual procedure.

After the prison was exposed, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that he was against torture, but he and other officials have issued statements since then showing little effort will be made to actually end it. First, Maliki said that if there were any torture in Iraqi prison it was due to his political rivals. He also said that secret prisons were necessary to secure the country. After Human Rights Watch interviewed some of the prisoners to record their abuses, Maliki then claimed that their stories were faked. He said, “They had given themselves scars by rubbing matches on some of their body parts,” and that “These are lies, a smear campaign by some foreign embassies and the media. There are no secret pr,isons in Iraq at all.” He went on to state that the United States used tough measures at Abu Ghraib to deal with the insurgency, and that the Iraqi government was now doing the same so what was the problem. A week later, the head of the Federal Relations Committee in parliament denied that there were any secret prisons in Iraq, and that although the detainees at Muthanna had no specific charges against them, the Defense Ministry had evidence against all of them. 

There have been various reports by international organizations of the abuses and lack of due process in Iraq’s detention facilities and justice system over the years.  Nothing has been done to fix the problems however. The statements by Maliki and others like the head of the Federal Relations Committee are signs that this is not going to change. After the most public example of torture in the country rather than demanding to hold people accountable for what went on, the Prime Minister said that nothing wrong happened, and that if it did, it was necessary for security. That’s why the Muthanna case is likely going to lead to nothing substantive except for a brief period of bad press, and then things will continue on as they had before.


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

Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Detainees Describe Torture in Secret Jail,” 4/27/10
- “The Quality of Justice, Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court,” December 2008

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

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Lawmaker Says Secret Prison Reports ‘Exaggerated,’” 5/4/10

Sengupta, Kim, “Secret Iraqi government prison was ‘worse than Abu Ghraib,’” The Independent, 4/29/10

United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 January – 30 June 2009,” 12/15/09

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