Sunni Arabs Tell of Abuse at Secret Iraqi Prison

Tariq Hashimi, secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, displays pictures of prisoners allegedly tortured by Iraqi security forces. Hashimi and others also called for an international investigation into the allegations.
Tariq Hashimi, secretary general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni group, displays pictures of prisoners allegedly tortured by Iraqi security forces. Hashimi and others also called for an international investigation into the allegations. (By Karim Kadim -- Associated Press)

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By Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 17, 2005

BAGHDAD, Nov. 16 -- Sunni Arab leaders and an alleged torture victim gave accounts Wednesday of bloody beatings, starvation and killings in a secret underground prison run by Iraq's Shiite-led Interior Ministry and uncovered by U.S. soldiers.

"Within seconds, I was swimming in the air," said a 20-year-old law student, who asserted in an interview that his captors yanked him to the ceiling by a metal chain looped through cuffs that bound his hands behind his back.

That abuse, he said, began the first torture session in what would be 37 days of confinement. In later sessions, he was placed in a barrel of cold water and simultaneously shocked with electrical current, he said at the headquarters of a Sunni political party, where he spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by his former captors. His account could not be independently verified.

Three days after U.S. troops entered the illicit prison, and a day after Iraq's Shiite-led government acknowledged the detentions, allegations of torture and long-term detention at the Interior Ministry compound in Baghdad's middle-class Jadriyah neighborhood have become the most prominent of numerous accusations of abuse by the country's Shiite-dominated security forces.

Leaders of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority said Wednesday that beatings at the prison had caused prisoners' broken bones. "Abu Ghraib prison is now considered as heaven compared to Iraqi detention facilities," said Abdul Salam Kubaisi, a senior official of the Association of Muslim Scholars, referring to the U.S.-run prison outside Baghdad where guards abused Iraqi detainees. Several members of the association, a Sunni religious group that includes many hard-line opponents of the U.S.-backed government, were taken to the Interior Ministry prison, Kubaisi said, and at least one disappeared there.

The Interior Ministry compound, which has been the target of repeated car bombings and is surrounded by concrete barricades, is in the heart of Jadriyah. Offices are nearby that house the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite religious party that is the strongest in Iraq's government and whose Iranian-trained militia fighters now make up a large part of the Interior Ministry's forces.

This summer, the compound became the object of neighborhood rumors of a secret prison and torture center, including talk that it reeked of rotting bodies. Soldiers of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division entered the compound Sunday night after an Iraqi army commander relayed a report from a Sunni family whose members believed their 14- or 15-year-old son had disappeared inside, the U.S. military said.

The soldiers never found the teenager, but they uncovered an underground bomb shelter that allegedly had been converted into a clandestine torture center where Sunni men appeared to have been held for months, the U.S. military said. Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, a member of another Shiite-dominated political party, told reporters Tuesday that 173 men had been found confined there.

The deputy interior minister, Hussain Ali Kamal, told CNN that he had been informed of torturers peeling the skin from detainees. Some of the men, he said, appeared to have been left paralyzed by abuse. An NBC journalist watched as emaciated men were taken from the building over the weekend.

Hadi Amery, head of the Badr Organization, the Shiite militia most often accused of involvement in attacks on Sunnis, denied that the group had anything to do with the prison.

"Badr has nothing to do with this. Why would Badr be involved in the first place?" he told the Reuters news agency. "If there was torture, we ask for an investigation."

The U.S. military gave no immediate details of the alleged abuses but said none of the men required overnight hospital care. An Iraqi official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the men were taken to a detention center run by Iraq's army.

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