Human Rights Watch: Maliki's security forces abusing detainees at secret sites

By Liz Sly
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 1, 2011; 6:59 PM

BAGHDAD - Elite security forces under the control of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are operating secret detention sites in Baghdad at which prisoners are being abused, according to a report by the watchdog group Human Rights Watch released Tuesday.

One of the sites is at a military base where U.S. forces maintain an advisory team, the U.S. military confirmed.

Former prisoners who were held at another of the facilities, a military base in the Green Zone that was vacated by U.S. troops last summer, have told Human Rights Watch researchers that detainees there were regularly abused, by being hung upside down, beaten and given electric shocks to various body parts, including the genitals.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the existence of the Green Zone prison, which is being operated by the 56th Brigade of the Iraqi army and the Counter-Terrorism Service, both of which are controlled by the prime minister's office.

Human Rights Watch says it has discovered another secret prison located at Camp Justice in the northwestern Baghdad neighborhood of Kadhimiyah in which detainees are being kept without access to lawyers, family members or prison inspectors, "prompting fresh concerns that the [56th] brigade may be torturing detainees," the report says.

U.S. troops have a presence there, but U.S. forces "are not responsible nor do they have any interaction with detainees of the government of Iraq," said a U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Rob Phillips, referring queries to the Iraqi government.

Iraqi officials did not respond to requests for comment.

More than 280 prisoners from the Green Zone site were transferred to the Camp Justice prison in November, apparently to avoid a planned visit by an international inspection team, the report said. The Camp Justice site is within a legitimate prison on the sprawling base that is run by the Justice Ministry, it says.

Most of the prisoners are accused of terrorism, it adds.

"Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government's promises to respect the rule of law," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The Los Angeles Times reported in April the existence of another secret detention facility at Muthanna air base, and Human Rights Watch subsequently published a report based on interviews with 42 former detainees who described widespread abuse there.

Tuesday's report comes at a time when many of Maliki's political rivals are accusing him of seeking to increase his power by assuming control of key independent agencies, including the election commission.

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