Iraq: Amnesty blasts continued torture and detention

Freedom’s on the march. From BBC, March 6:

Amnesty International has said that thousands of detainees held by the multinational forces in Iraq are still being denied their basic rights.

The group said the lessons of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal appeared to have been ignored and reports of torture continued to “pour out of Iraq”.

It said it based its findings on interviews with former inmates.

US and British officials insist that prisoners are treated in accordance with international standards.

The report says the multinational forces and Iraqi authorities must take urgent steps to stop human rights abuses if there is to be any hope of halting Iraq’s slide towards increasing violence and sectarianism.

Amnesty says in its 48-page report that thousands of Iraqis are being held without charge or trial.

More than 200 detainees have been imprisoned for more than two years and nearly 4,000 for over a year, it reports.

“To hold this huge number of people without basic legal safeguards is a gross dereliction of responsibility on the part of both the US and UK forces,” said its UK director, Kate Allen.

‘Chilling signs’

The report mentions the case of one detainee, Kamal Muhammad, a 43-year-old father of 11 held without charge by US forces for over two years.

“His brother reports that he has received insufficient food and has lost some 20 kilos in weight in prison,” Amnesty says.

Other prisoners were released “without explanation or apology or reparation after months in detention”.

There has also been increasing evidence of torture of detainees by the Iraqi security forces, despite various scandals and promises of investigation and proper treatment.

Former detainees told Amnesty they had been beaten with plastic cables, given electric shocks and made to stand in a flooded room as an electrical current was passed through the water.

Ms Allen compared the current situation to the earlier scandal which broke when photos were released showing US guards abusing detainees at the Baghdad prison.

“There are chilling signs that the lessons of Abu Ghraib have not been learnt,” she said.

“Not only prisoners being held in defiance of international law but the allegations of torture continue to pour out of Iraq.”

Detentions defended

According to the US military, each detainee is given a form explaining the reasons for their imprisonment and their files are reviewed every 90 to 120 days.

The British Ministry of Defence said allegations of wrongdoing were always taken seriously and international observers were invited into its detention centres.

It said that the Red Cross was informed of each detention within 24 hours and the detainee’s family was also notified.

Britain had “no interest in interning individuals in Iraq other than to protect Iraqi security personnel and civilians, and British servicemen and women, from attack”, an MoD spokeswoman told The Associated Press.

More from Reuters:

Amnesty International condemned the detention in Iraq of around 14,000 prisoners without charge or trial, saying on Monday the lessons of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal had not been learned.

“As long as U.S. and U.K. forces hold prisoners in secret detention conditions, torture is much more likely to occur, to go undetected and to go unpunished,” Amnesty’s U.K. Director Kate Allen said.

In a 48-page-report entitled “Beyond Abu Ghraib”, the London-based human rights group called for an end to the internment, which it said contravened international law.

“After the horrors of life under Saddam and then the fresh horror of U.S. prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, it is shocking to discover that the multinational forces are detaining thousands of people without charge or trial,” Allen said.

“Not only have there been recent cases of prisoners being tortured in detention, but to hold this huge number of people without basic legal safeguards is a gross dereliction of responsibility on the part of both the U.S. and U.K. forces.”

See our last posts on Iraq and the torture scandal.