Security forces under the control of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are operating a secret prison filled with detainees who were transferred from a facility where widespread torture was uncovered last year, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The international rights group says it obtained classified documents that describe a secret site within a military camp called Camp Justice, in Baghdad's Kathamiya neighborhood. It's run by the Iraqi Army's 56th Brigade and the counterterrorism service. Both outfits are under the authority of the prime minister.
The report raises fresh concerns about the torture of Iraqi detainees held at Camp Justice and portrays a concerted effort among Iraqi officials to hide abuse at other detention facilities.
"With these specific brigades ... there seems to be a pattern of continuing torture and I think that part of it is that the government hasn't taken steps to address the problem – it hasn't acknowledged the problem," says Samer Muscati, an HRW researcher. He says officials from the prime minister's office have not responded to repeated requests for information or meetings to discuss the issue.
In a report released Tuesday, HRW says that just days before an international inspection team was due to visit a site inside the green zone last November, Iraqi authorities transferred 280 detainees, almost all of them terrorism suspects, to Camp Justice. HRW also found documents from two weeks ago that show a 56th brigade officer prevented prison inspectors from visiting detainees at Camp Justice. Government spokesmen could not be reached for comment on the report.
The report says that about 80 of the 280 detainees at Camp Honor have had no access to lawyers or relatives and prison inspectors are not permitted to conduct visits to the facility controlled by the 56th brigade.
In interviews with HRW, former detainees at Camp Honor described beatings and torture that continued as late as last summer, after the disclosures of widespread torture there. The International Committees of the Red Cross, which has a mandate to inspect detention facilities, says it has not been able to visit Camp Honor because the government did not allow access to all parts of the facility. HRW says government sources have told it that authorities have prevented the Human Rights Ministry from conducting any prison inspections at Camp Honor for more than a year.
The Los Angeles Times in January quoted Iraqi officials and diplomatic sources as saying that some Camp Honor detainees had been held for up to two years without access to lawyers, while efforts to investigate reports of human rights abuses there had failed.
HRW quoted an Interior Ministry official as telling them last month that "people come to police stations or prisons looking for family members who have been arrested. If we find out they were taken by Maliki's forces, we don't get information about them or have jurisdiction to do anything."
In one of the biggest revelations of prison abuses, HRW last year interviewed 42 detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad's old Muthanna airport who reported they had been tortured over a period of months. Many of them had scars and other marks corroborating their accounts.
Maliki, who still has not presented candidates for the Interior and Defense ministers in the new Iraqi government, has been widely criticized in his previous tenure for putting security forces under his own control. Those forces appear to also bypass the Ministry of Justice, which is intended to operate detention facilities.
(Editor's note: This article was modified after publication to correctly identify an Iraqi military camp named in the Human Rights Watch report.)