September 13, 2010 in Nation/World

Amnesty International says Iraq abusing prisoners

Group alleges torture, deaths
Rebecca Santana Associated Press

BAGHDAD – Detainees in Iraqi prisons and jails often go years without trial, face widespread torture and abuse, and have little access to their families or legal help, an international human rights group said today.

The report by London-based Amnesty International raises disturbing questions about the future of Iraqi justice at a critical juncture – after the U.S. military has handed over almost all prison responsibilities to Iraq’s government.

About 30,000 detainees are currently in Iraqi custody, the report stated. Prisoners are often housed in crowded conditions, leading to health problems, and they sometimes go years without seeing the inside of a courtroom, Amnesty said.

“Iraq’s security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees’ rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Iraqi government officials could not be reached for comment.

Amnesty International researchers detailed a litany of abuse, including suspending people by their limbs, beating them with cables and pipes, removing toenails with pliers and piercing the body with drills.

Hundreds of people – including some facing the death penalty – have been convicted based on confessions extracted through torture, the report said.

The vast majority of the detainees are Sunnis suspected of helping the insurgency; hundreds are Shiites accused of being part of the Mahdi Army, an outlawed militia run by anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has fought U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

The report detailed the deaths of seven detainees who were among 100 prisoners who had been packed into two vans and transferred from a prison north of Baghdad to the capital.

American authorities, who have handed over responsibility for three prisons over the last year, came under particular criticism in the 59-page-report for transferring prisoners to Iraqi custody when allegations of human rights abuses are known to exist.

As American forces have prepared to leave Iraq, they have released or handed over to Iraqi authorities about 23,000 detainees since mid-2007, the report said.

An American military spokesman denied that Iraqi detainees are likely to face abuse, and said detainee facilities are frequently inspected and abide by the rule of law and international standards.

“Detainees are fed, clothed, provided medicine and able to meet with family members. The U.S. is not violating any international agreements in Iraq in respect to detainees,” said Lt. Col. Bob Owen.

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