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.
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"Every day there are random detentions, and among hundreds of detainees, there are a few guilty and the vast majority are innocent," says Mr. Huthaifa, the Mosul car dealer. He says dozens of young men imprisoned with him were raped in Iraqi detention – a claim consistent with reports from human rights groups.Skip to next paragraph
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"I think here, because there's such a high number of detainees and there's such a lack of funding and overcrowding, there are so many issues on top of each other it creates a really unique environment where all of these issues can fester," says Muscati. "It's the way of doing business in Iraq and unfortunately it's something we've inherited from Saddam Hussein to the Americans in Abu Ghraib to the militias in the south and now the current government – it's the legacy that this country seems to have."
Iraqi activists say the lawlessness that took hold after President Hussein made it possible for anyone to be a jailer. "It was a very strong central government and, whatever you say about it, it [did] prevent a lot of mischief," says Hanna Edward, head of Amal, an Iraqi human rights group. "We're not looking for comparisons, we're looking for change."
But some see human rights as a Western concept that a country at war can't afford. Facing horrific violence against citizens, interrogators in many parts of Iraq seem free to torture prisoners at will to get a confession and a conviction. In the Iraqi legal system, a suspect can be convicted of some crimes only through a confession.
"I think everyone should just calm down," says Gen. Hassan Kareem, head of the Ninevah Operations Command in Mosul, adding that torture reports have been exaggerated. "If I capture a terrorist, I have to keep him for a while to get information."
The U.S. embassy, which has played an increasing role as the US military presence declines, says it regularly raises human rights abuses with Iraqi authorities.
"We continue to engage with them on these things – every one that comes to our attention," says US Ambassador Gary Grappo. "Rule of law and human rights are a core element of our policy here in Iraq."
But among many Iraqi officials, Abu Ghraib and Washington's extraordinary rendition of terror suspects have robbed America of any moral authority on human rights.
"As I recall, the United States has its own secret prisons," says Yassen Almori, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent.
•Mohammed al-Dulaimy contributed to this story.
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