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Torture in Iraq Still Routine, Report Says

Detainees Beaten, Hung by Wrists, Shocked by Security Forces, Rights Group Finds

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A10

BAGHDAD, Jan. 24 -- Twenty months after Saddam Hussein's government was toppled and its torture chambers unlocked, Iraqis are again being routinely beaten, hung by their wrists and shocked with electrical wires, according to a report by a human rights organization.

Iraqi police, jailers and intelligence agents, many of them holding the same jobs they had under Hussein, are "committing systematic torture and other abuses" of detainees, Human Rights Watch said in a report to be released Tuesday.

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Legal safeguards are being ignored, political opponents are targeted for arrest, and the government of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi "appears to be actively taking part, or is at least complicit, in these grave violations of fundamental human rights," the report concludes.

A spokesman for Allawi declined to comment, Monday and said "I will put this report on the prime minister's desk tomorrow to see if he has any reaction."

Ibrahim Jafari, an interim vice president, said in an interview that security forces needed to be tougher to combat the campaign of violence by opponents of the election.

"I think the security people are not arresting enough and are releasing them too quickly," Jafari said. "And many of the security people are cooperating with the criminals. I think we have to put security as our priority."

The Human Rights Watch report acknowledged that Iraq was "in the throes of a significant insurgency" in which 1,300 police officers and thousands of civilians were killed in the last four months of 2004. But it argued that "no government, not Saddam Hussein's, not the occupying powers and not the Iraqi Interim Government, can justify ill-treatment of persons in custody in the name of security."

The report was based on interviews with 90 current and former detainees in Iraq conducted between July and October last year, many of them interviewed when they were brought to court for initial proceedings. Of those, 72 said they were "tortured or ill-treated," the report says. It recounts numerous individual cases of torture, and says the victims often had fresh scars or bruises.

"I was beaten with cables and suspended by my hands tied behind my back," Dhia Fawzi Shaid, 30, a resident of Baghdad, told the human rights investigators, according to the report. "I saw young men there lying on the floor while police [stepped] on their heads with boots. It was worse than Saddam's regime."

Another, identified in the report as Ali Rashid Abbadi, 21, said he was arrested by police after the bombing of a liquor store on July 11. "The police came and started hitting us," he told Human Rights Watch. "They shouted at us to confess. . . . We were blindfolded and our hands were tied behind our backs. They poured cold water over me and applied electric shocks to my genitals."

Abbadi was later released by a judge for lack of evidence, the report says.

The report deals with the conduct of Iraqi authorities but not that of U.S. military forces at three U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib. The three sites currently hold about 9,000 prisoners.

The Washington Post contacted several people whose cases were included in the report. They declined to speak to a reporter, saying they feared retaliation by police.

"The majority of detainees . . . stated that torture and ill-treatment during the initial period was commonplace" in jails run by the Interior Ministry, the report says. The abuses included "routine beatings . . . using cables, [rubber] hosepipes and metal rods . . . kicking, slapping and punching, prolonged suspension from the wrists," as well as electric shocks to the genitals and long periods spent blindfolded and handcuffed.

Hania Mufti, the Baghdad director of Human Rights Watch and chief author of the report, said she did not find examples of abuses that were on a par with the worst atrocities committed under Hussein's rule, such as mock executions, disfigurement with acid or sexual assaults on family members in front of prisoners. But in many other respects, she said, treatment of those swept up by police had changed little.

"Many of the same people who worked in Saddam's time are still doing those jobs today. So there is a continuity of personnel and of mind-set," she said in an interview. "I think the Iraqi people themselves thought there was going to be a different system. Every day, they are finding it is not so different."

The report also says authorities made a mockery of legal safeguards. People said they were arrested without warrants and held without charges for days, weeks or months. Police officials ignored summonses from judges, and judges who became too demanding of authorities were removed from their jobs.

"The message has not gone out from the government that torture will not be tolerated," Mufti said. And foreign advisers hired to assist the Iraqi police have failed to object, she said.

The report relates "the only known case in which U.S. forces intervened to stop detainee abuse." It said scouts from an Oregon Army National Guard unit saw Iraqi guards at an Interior Ministry compound abusing detainees on June 29. A soldier took pictures through his rifle scope of detainees who were blindfolded and bound.

According to an account related in the report by Capt. Jarrell Southal of the National Guard, his soldiers entered the compound and found bound prisoners "writhing in pain" and complaining of lack of water. They gave water to the men, moved them out of the sun and then disarmed the Iraqi police. But when the Oregon soldiers radioed up their chain of command for instructions, they were ordered to "return the prisoners to the Iraqi authorities and leave the detention yard."


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