As US troops leave, Iraqis fear prison torture will widen
Despite the Abu Ghraib scandal, US troops are now seen as protectors of human rights. Iraqis say they are being tortured in Iraqi secret prisons.
Bashar al-Dulaimy says he often thinks back to the day he almost died in Iraqi detention.Skip to next paragraph
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"They broke my teeth, my nose, and my ribs," he says. An officer overseeing the beating had just ordered that he be taken out and killed when a US patrol pulled up. He says all but one of the Iraqi police scattered."They left because they were afraid of what the Americans would do."
As the US prepares to withdraw from Iraq, serious concerns are surfacing about systematic torture by Iraqi forces in a country where ending human rights abuses was one of the main American goals.
Many Iraqis believe the abuse is part of ongoing political power struggles that could again turn violent.
"All the people feel that politicians here are just waiting for the Americans to leave to take off their masks and show their true faces," says Dulaimy.
The US has spent tens of millions of dollars in Iraq on human rights training, and hundreds of millions of dollars more on instilling the rule of law – training judges, lawyers, and forensic experts and building courthouses.
But as the US forces that provided a deterrent to widespread human rights abuses have pulled back, and in many cases moved out of the picture completely, there remains almost no daily oversight by international observers in a climate rife with corruption and intimidation.
Human rights officials fear the potential for abuse of prisoners will increase as the US military transfers the last of its detention facilities to Iraqi control in the next few months.
Despite US abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, most Iraqis say they would rather take their chances in US detention facilities than Iraqi ones.
"Iraqis have become convinced that the occupying Americans are more merciful than the people of this country," says Abu Huthaifa, a car dealer in Mosul who says he was tortured while jailed last year. His scars are consistent with his story of being suspended from the ceiling and beaten. "[When] people leave the prisons, they leave with hatred toward the government and those leaders who manage to slander the word 'democracy.' "
A secret prison at the Muthanna Iraqi Army base in Baghdad has been particularly troubling to many. Though far from the first such prison brought to light in the post-Saddam era, it may point to a wider problem of facilities operating outside legal safeguards.
More than 400 detainees at Muthanna, including a 68-year-old Iraqi-Briton, were arrested in raids ordered and carried out by units under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's control. At least 40 of them were tortured, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).