U.S. Envoy Calls Torture Severe And Extensive at 2 Iraqi Prisons

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 14, 2005

BAGHDAD, Dec. 13 -- U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on Tuesday described torture cases discovered in Iraqi police prisons as both extensive and severe, saying more than 120 abused detainees had been found in the two centers run by the Shiite-led government that have been inspected so far.

Khalilzad rejected Interior Ministry officials' suggestion that any mistreatment of prisoners had been mild, saying the abuse found was "far worse than slapping around."

U.S. and Iraqi authorities said the latest search, an inspection of an Interior Ministry special commando unit's detention center in Baghdad on Thursday, found 13 men who required immediate medical treatment among more than 600 detainees in badly crowded conditions. An Iraqi official who U.S. authorities have said had firsthand knowledge of the search said 12 of the men had been subjected to torture that included broken bones, pulled fingernails, cigarettes stamped into skin and electric shocks.

Khalilzad said at a news conference that more than 100 of roughly 170 detainees found last month in the first surprise raid on an Interior Ministry prison had been abused. Officials and witnesses at the time spoke of seeing a number of beaten, emaciated men at that center, a previously secret, underground facility in Baghdad holding mostly Sunni Arabs. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said then that only seven torture cases had been found in the November raid.

In Thursday's inspection, roughly 20 to 25 detainees showed signs of abuse, Khalilzad said.

Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights and other ministries involved in Thursday's raid issued a statement Sunday acknowledging crowding and other problems at the commando prison, including that 13 detainees had been treated badly enough to require medical treatment. Interior Ministry officials, however, have publicly denied torture cases at the second prison.

An Interior Ministry official, Brig. Gen. Saad Latif, said the 13 detainees who were hospitalized had come to the commando unit prison complaining of torture at another prison. Any abuse had happened before the detainees arrived, Latif insisted.

Although Khalilzad confirmed on Tuesday that U.S. military and diplomatic personnel were present at Thursday's raid, the Americans have repeatedly refused to release details of the abuse, saying the Iraqi government should take the lead publicly.

Most of the detainees at both prisons are believed to have been Sunni Arabs, although U.S. officials have confirmed that only at the first facility. The Interior Ministry's security forces are dominated by Shiite Muslims, including former members of militias linked to the Shiite religious parties now in power.

Iraqi officials "show all the positive signs of doing the right thing," said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq. "It's not as if they're trying to cover up these things. They're having these unannounced inspections."

Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, publicly rebuked Iraq's government in the first case, and President Bush decried the torture on Monday in a speech in Philadelphia.

"This is unacceptable for this kind of abuse to take place,'' Khalilzad said Tuesday. He urged an accelerated investigation into Iraq's other 1,000-plus detention centers.

Shiite leaders have rejected allegations that Iranian intelligence agents have been present in the Interior Ministry centers. Some of Iraq's Shiite religious parties were founded in exile in Iran and maintain close ties with Iran's Shiite government.

On Tuesday, Khalilzad issued a condemnation, at once specific and veiled, of any Iranian involvement in Iraq.

"There's predatory states, the hegemonic states with aspirations of regional hegemony in the areas, such as Iran," Khalilzad said.

"While we would like good relations, as good a relationship as possible between Iraq and its neighbors, we do not want Iran to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs,'' he said, and went on to cite a list: "We do not want weapons to come across from Iran into Iraq, or training of Iraqis to take place, either directly or indirectly using camps such as Hezbollah. And we do not want Iraqi areas near the Iranian border to be dominated by Iran or some central institutions of Iraq, or for terrorists, al Qaeda types, to come across the border, and so on and so forth."

Khalilzad twice refused to say if the United States believed such events were already occurring. "I have those concerns and I will leave it at that," he said.


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