Abuse 'widespread' in Iraqi prisons
A US military doctor says US troops intervene when they can, but Iraqis run the jails.
BAGHDAD AND CAIRO
After a US raid on a secret Iraqi government jail last month revealed some detainees were tortured and abused there, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr insisted abuse claims were exaggerated and that torture will not be tolerated in the new Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
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US soldiers and some Iraqi officials disagree. They say not only is prisoner abuse widespread, but that much of it is carried out by Mr. Jabr's subordinates. Efforts to bring the problem under control during the past year have largely been frustrated by indifference from senior Iraqi officials, they say.
Privately, half a dozen US officers have acknowledged to the Monitor that prisoner abuse by Iraqi police is common.
Now, one officer is speaking out. Major R. John Stukey, a US Army doctor who served in Baghdad from January to June, frequently visited Interior Ministry facilities on the east side of Baghdad to assess the health of prisoners. He says he personally treated about a dozen men who had been tortured and observed an environment of overcrowding and neglect.
Many more of his patients alleged torture, but in most cases this couldn't be verified, since he often saw them for the first time months after their initial arrests and interrogations.
In one east Baghdad facility run by Iraq's Interior Ministry, a few miles from the secret jail that was raided by US forces on Nov. 13, Major Stukey says about 220 men were held in filthy conditions in a space so crowded that many couldn't lie down to sleep.
Stukey visited the facilities with members of the 720th US Military Police Battalion. The MPs filed frequent reports to their commanders about the ill-treatment and, Stukey says, did what they could to prevent torture and improve the prisoners' conditions. They made a point of distributing soap, toothbrushes, and Korans whenever they visited.
"We did report what we saw, but it was like trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water,'' says Stukey by telephone at Fort Rucker in Alabama, where he is currently based. "The MPs submitted reports at least several times a week on detention issues. We knew about it, and we tried to change it, but it was just one of those things you had to deal with."
Officials from the 720th, now back at its base in Fort Hood, Texas, did not respond to requests for comment.
Coalition troops, fighting a deadly insurgency, say they don't have the manpower to compel better behavior from their Iraqi partners, and that to do so would require them to court frequent conflict with their closest allies inside the country.
The Bush Administration has sent mixed messages on the subject. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that the US "does not authorize or condone torture of detainees." The US has also signed the UN Convention Against Torture. But administration officials have also argued that the treaty rules on "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment do not apply outside US territory.
The tension over the US position was illustrated at a press conference with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace on Nov. 29.
When General Pace said, "it's absolutely the responsibility of every US service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted to intervene to stop it." Secretary Rumsfeld interjected, "I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it."
To this, General Pace replied: "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it."
Since that exchange, Rumsfeld has ordered military commanders to clarify the rules for how US troops should respond if they witness abuse of detainees.
Pat Lang, a retired colonel and former head of Middle East Intelligence for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, says it's important for the US to have a zero-tolerance policy toward torture.