In Iraq's prisons, a culture of abuse
As the US speeds the transfer of detainees in its custody, many appear headed into a notoriously violent system. Inmates at Abu Ghraib rioted Thursday and Friday.
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But that doesn't jibe with early findings of the Iraqi government committee set up in June – an eight-member group formed after the assassination of prisoner-rights crusader Harith al-Obeidi, deputy chairman of parliament's human rights committee. An Iraqi military spokesman told the Associated Press in mid-July that the panel had visited three detention facilities in Baghdad, and that most of the abuse uncovered so far took place in the Rusafa prison.Skip to next paragraph
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An Interior Ministry official who was inspecting Diyala prisons told the Monitor that the ministry "sent a committee to visit Rusafa, and it is not good. It is the same as the jails in Diyala Province, the same breaches of human rights."
"Yes, there is violence" in Diyala jails, the official confirmed, on condition of anonymity. "There are violent punishments, they hang them from their arms, beat them with sticks and [punch them], kicking, [using] electricity, stubbing out cigarettes on the skin." He described a practice, also detailed by former prisoners, in which prisoners are forced to drink water and then prevented from urinating by a method too unpleasant to be described here.
A senior police officer in Diyala, in a separate interview, described similar treatment of his two brothers, who were arrested in 2007 on suspicion of being Al Qaeda members. They were taken to the Major Crimes Unit, the main prison in Diyala, run by the Interior Ministry. One was ill, and was beaten and died, he says.
"I found him in the morgue. I saw his body, with cigarette burns on it." There were also marks from beatings, he confirmed. "They released my other brother because my older brother died and they got scared. He [the one who was released] had been tortured. He could not walk."
While it is difficult to confirm individual statements, the governor of Diyala Province, Abdel Nasr al-Mehdawi, acknowledged in a June interview that there were problems of overcrowding and torture in prisons. He had set up a committee to deal with the problems, he said in June, but they have thus far made little progress.
The anonymous official, meanwhile, says he is part of a separate, ongoing Interior Ministry drive to inspect and improve prisons and was chosen because he was jailed for 20 years under the Saddam regime.
"There are breaches of human rights," he says, "not enough medication, not enough space ... there are innocents in prison without warrants." "In my opinion," he added, "it is the same as the prisons under the Saddam regime."
Courts allow confessions made under duress
Most prisoners in Iraq are held for lengthy pretrial detention, and trials often rely on confessions "likely to have been extracted under abuse," says Muscati, based on HRW interviews with approximately three dozen detainees – published in the December 2008 HRW report, The Quality of Justice.
Departing from international standards, Iraqi criminal law allows evidence extracted under duress to be presented in court, provided that it is consistent with other material evidence in the case, says Hania Mufti, the former chief of the UN's Human Rights Office in Baghdad before leaving in August 2008.