Militiaman Denies Tie To Secret Iraq Prison
Thursday, December 1, 2005
BAGHDAD, Nov. 30 -- The headquarters of the Badr Organization, Iraq's most feared Shiite Muslim militia, sits behind blast walls and armed checkpoints in a cluster of large homes near a highway overpass in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriyah.
Less than a mile away in the same wealthy district stands the Interior Ministry prison where two weeks ago U.S. soldiers found 173 inmates, many of them malnourished and showing signs of torture; most of them were Sunni Arabs.
Sunni Arab leaders immediately blamed the Badr Organization, many of whose members have joined the Iraqi security forces. The militia's claim to have abandoned arms for politics is widely disputed by U.S. officials and Iraqis outside Shiite leadership.
But in an interview conducted over tea in a spartan home with a verdant garden, Haidi Amery, head of the militia -- an affiliate of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the dominant party in Iraq's government -- denied that the group was involved with the prison. At the same time, Amery, wearing a suit with no tie, dismissed criticism of the methods used there as hypocritical, citing the mistreatment of detainees by Americans and Iraqis at other facilities.
He also argued that U.S. soldiers carried out the Nov. 13 raid to draw attention from intensifying calls for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
"When an American soldier shoots someone in the street, they say it's his right because the situation is tense," said Amery, adding that his organization was opposed to torture. "We accept that U.S. soldiers kill in suspicion and fear, and we should keep in mind also the tension of police and soldiers."
He also said that U.S. commanders had long been aware of the Interior Ministry prison facility, where in recent days inmates have described how prisoners were tortured with electric shocks and killed by having their skin peeled from their bodies.
"The Americans called it a secret facility, but they were lying. They knew about it. They had been there several times. They had even assigned $1 million to rehabilitate it. If there was torture, I doubt they did not know about it," he said. "Do you think the Americans don't allow torture? What about what happens at Abu Ghraib? What about Camp Bucca?" he said, referring to two of the U.S. prison facilities in Iraq where detainee abuses have been documented.
A spokesman for the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which conducted the raid after receiving a tip about a missing teenager, did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment on Amery's charges. Those charges could not be verified.
The militia leader's remarks came amid increasing scrutiny of the group. Sunni political leaders see its hand in nearly every crime committed against their people and blame the group for the prison abuses. Government investigators were due to present their findings about the prison on Wednesday, but missed their deadline.
Amery claimed the November raid was timed by the United States to disrupt a conference in Cairo aimed at reconciling differences among Iraq's Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish factions. The conference concluded Nov. 21 with a joint statement calling on the United States to produce a timetable for withdrawal.
Militias in Iraq were officially outlawed under Order 91, a law passed by the U.S.-led Coalitional Provisional Authority that ran the country in the year following the 2003 invasion. At the time, militia members were encouraged to join Iraq's nascent security forces. Many of them did, and the group is now deeply enmeshed with Iraq's police and army.