Witness: Secret Iraq prison for women and children

Iraq's Muthanna Army base has women and children in a secret prison, says an Iraqi eyewitness. He says some are family members of Al Qaeda suspect and are used to extract confessions.

By , / Correspondents , / Correspondents

There aren't supposed to be any prisons at the Muthanna Iraqi Army base, let alone ones with children in them.

But a member of the Iraqi security services says that as late as mid-May, he saw children playing in a makeshift detention center here.

"I just wish they would take the children out," he says, recalling the cries of an infant and a 3-year-old named Tiba. "I can't even tell my own wife and children what I do."

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The Muthanna facility appears to be operating weeks after a separate undisclosed prison on the base, where more than 400 suspects were held and dozens tortured, was closed.

The witness, who is known to be credible, says he risked speaking to a Western publication because he and some colleagues were sickened by seeing women and children detained. He insisted on anonymity.

"To reach the point of detaining women and their children is unacceptable. A woman's honor is Iraqi honor," he says.

He says at least six women and at least eight children were being held, including the wives of two suspected Al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders, Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayub al-Masri. The two women were detained with their children when their husbands were killed in an April air strike.

A Defense Ministry spokesman at the time confirmed that children had been rounded up. Children under the age of 3 are allowed to remain in detention facilities if their mothers have been arrested.

'Bring in his wife'

In some cases, the women were being interrogated as possible suspects, but in others they were being used to try to extract confessions from their husbands. Using threats against women to elicit confessions from male relatives is a practice well-documented by rights groups.

"Four days ago when one of the men wouldn't confess they said, 'Bring in his wife.' They put her in a separate room nearby and beat her so he could hear her screaming," says the witness. "They went back to the man and said, 'We will rape her if you don't confess.' "

The makeshift detention unit is said to be attached to the 54th brigade of the Sixth Iraqi Army Division – a unit that has taken the lead in counterinsurgency operations in Baghdad and increasingly throughout the country. The interrogators from the brigade's intelligence unit said to be threatening the women bypassed the Baghdad Operations Command's central investigations commission to conduct their own interrogations. The Ministry of Defense, its human rights directorate, and the Ministry of Justice declined requests for comment.

The man says he and his colleagues had never seen an international rights group visit the detention center. The one time a Human Rights Ministry employee visited the brigade prison and asked about a missing prisoner, she was asked to leave, he says.

The ministry last month suspended its prison investigations after the political fallout from its revelation of the undeclared detention centers at Muthanna, according to political sources. A spokesman declined an interview, saying they were no longer allowed to talk.

The witness said although the Iraqi Army unit has a joint operations center with US forces, the Iraqis make sure the Americans don't see the torture.

He said that on four occasions he had seen suspects tortured by being hung by handcuffs fixed to an iron bar and administered electric shocks through a black hood connected to wires. The last time was in late April. "When I see all this torture I say to myself, 'What is the difference from Saddam?' If I were under this torture, I would confess to anything just to make it stop."

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