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Abuse, Torture by Iraqi Police Called Routine

by Jim Lobe

UK Shocked By Iraq Prisoner Torture By Its Own Soldiers

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Despite the millions of dollars spent by the U.S. and other nations to improve their performance, Iraqi police still routinely abuse and often torture detainees, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Methods of torture include routine beatings using cables, hosepipes and other implements; kicking, slapping, and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded or handcuffed continuously over several days, according to the 93-page report.

Based on investigations carried out in Iraq between July and October last year, including interviews with 90 former prisoners, the report, "The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-Treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody," also found that arrests were frequently carried out without warrants on the basis of information provided by "secret informants."

Contrary to the provisions of Iraq's Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), which requires a defendant to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest, the vast majority of ex-detainees had been held without appearing before a judge for a far longer period, in some cases for almost four months.

The detention system was also found to be rife with corruption, according to the report, which noted that police officials routinely demand bribes for visits by family members and attorneys, for appearances before a judge, and even for food and water.

"The people of Iraq were promized something better than this after the government of Saddam Hussein fell," said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW's Middle East director. "The Iraqi Interim Government is not keeping its promises to honor and respect basic human rights. Sadly, the Iraqi people continue to suffer from a government that acts with impunity in its treatment of detainees."

The new report comes amid an ongoing cascade of news about serious abuses committed against detainees by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released new documents here Monday that detailed formal complaints of abuses by soldiers, often Special Operations Forces (SOF), of Iraqi civilians, including sexual humiliation, burning with cigarettes, and even forced sodomy, very few of which were followed up aggressively by military investigators. The report covered incidents that allegedly took place through July of 2004.

In one case, a 73-year-old Iraqi woman captured by SOF testified that she was stripped and humiliated by a man who "straddled her ...and attempted to ride her like a horse" before hitting her with a stick and shoving it into her anus. Although an investigation was launched, the case's disposition remains classified.

In another case recounted by U.S. contractor, a female military police officer was witnessed making a detainee "jump up and down and then roll left to right on the ground in what he believed to be 150 degree Fahrenheit temperature" for some 20 minutes despite his having collapsed repeatedly. The incident was never investigated.

In other cases, including homicides, Army investigators either accepted soldiers' claims of self-defense or closed their investigations for insufficient evidence.

ACLU director Anthony Romero described many investigations as "woefully inadequate."

"Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse," he said. "The documents that the ACLU has obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib (prison)."

Some of the cases released by the ACLU also involved Iraqi police and tend to corroborate some of HRW's findings.

It was in June 2003 that the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) transferred responsibility for the management of all detention and prison facilities to the Ministries of Interior and Justice, along with a memorandum that set out basic standards for their operation, although actual Iraqi control the criminal justice system did not begin until Sep. 2003.

Despite the presence of U.S. and other foreign advisers, however, those standards have been largely ignored, according to the report, which noted that many detainees were deprived of adequate food and water and crammed into "standing-room-only" cells with no room to lay down to sleep.

The report stressed that the Iraqi police face a daunting situation given the wave of insecurity and crime, including kidnapping and extortion rackets, that has hardly abated since the U.S. invasion nearly two years ago -- not to mention an insurgency that has specifically targeted the police.

In just the last four months of 2004, it noted, some 1,300 police and scores of other members of security forces died at the hands of insurgents.

"The Iraqi security forces obviously face tremendous challenges, including an insurgency that has targeted civilians," said Whitson. "We unequivocally condemn the insurgents' brutality. But international law is unambiguous on this point: no government can justify torture of detainees in the name of security."

The report examined cases of suspected members or sympathisers of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army who were arrested during and after last August's clashes in Najaf. They were routinely arrested without warrant, taken into detention where they were subjected to torture and a variety of other abuses, and then released without charge.

HRW investigators also interviewed more than 60 criminal suspects in Baghdad, virtually all of whom were tortured and then forced to sign a confession without knowing its contents.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) documented many of the abuses in a report to the U.S. government in Feb. 2004, but it is not clear what, if anything, Washington did about it, according to the report.

The report also noted that many of the same officers involved in the abuse held similar positions under Saddam Hussein, although in an interview with the Washington Post, Hania Mufti, HRW's Baghdad director, said they were not as severe as the worst abuses conducted before, including mock executions, disfigurement with acid, and forcing detainees to witness sexual assaults on their family members.

The report also detailed "the only known case in which U.S. forces intervened to stop detainee abuse." The soldiers units stopped the abuse and disarmed the police, but, when they radioed senior officers to explain what they had done, they were ordered to "return the prisoners to the Iraqi authorities..."

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Albion Monitor January 25, 2005 (

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