Saddam’s torturers back at work

From the London Times, July 7:

West turns blind eye as police put Saddam’s torturers back to work

IRAQI security forces, set up by American and British troops, torture detainees by pulling out their fingernails, burning them with hot irons or giving them electric shocks, Iraqi officials say. Cases have also been recorded of bound prisoners being beaten to death by police.

In their haste to put police on the streets to counter the brutal insurgency, Iraqi and US authorities have enlisted men trained under Saddam Hussein’s regime and versed in torture and abuse, the officials told The Times. They said that recruits were also being drawn from the ranks of outlawed Shia militias….

Among the worst offenders cited are the Interior Ministry police commandos, a force made up largely of former army officers and special forces soldiers drawn from the ranks of Saddam’s dissolved army. They are seen as the most effective tool the coalition has in fighting the insurgency.

“It’s a gruesome situation we are in,” a senior Iraqi official said. “You have to understand the situation when the special commandos were formed last August. They were taking on an awful lot of people in a great hurry. Many of them were people who served in Saddam’s forces… The choice of taking them on was a difficult one. There was no supervision. There still really isn ‘t any, and that applies to all the security forces. They’re all doing this.”

“This”, said Saad Sultan, the Human Rights Ministry official in charge of monitoring Iraq’s prisons, includes random arrests, sometimes without a warrant, hanging people from ceilings and beating them, attaching electrodes to ears, hands, feet and genitals, and holding hot irons to flesh.

Four of his 22 monitors have already quit their jobs, leaving a handful of lawyers to inspect scores of prisons.

“Two months ago I could go into a prison and more than 50 per cent of the people had been ill-treated,” Mr Sultan said. Six months ago the situation had been even worse.

Reports of torture and abuse are commonplace. Omar, a 22-year-old student, said that he was picked up in a night raid on his home in Baghdad by police commandos, who dragged him away from his family to a detention facility. No one told him where he was or what he was accused of, he said. As he was marched into prison, policemen lined up to beat him and his fellow detainees. The prisoners’ handcuffs were tightened until the men screamed.

The next day, he and his neighbour were blindfolded and transported to another facility, where his neighbour collapsed unconscious during a beating. He was then led into an interrogation room, where a policeman attached electrodes to his thumbs and toes. “I immediately asked what they wanted and he said something like, ‘You have been targeting police and national guardsmen’. Without waiting for my response, he switched on the electricity, then kept on turning it off and on until I could hardly breathe.

“I screamed under torture,” Omar said. “It’s not a place to prove your courage. These guys are trying to kill you for nothing.” He was released without charge after 12 days.

The abuse has not gone unnoticed by the coalition, but little has been done to address it. A US State Department report in February stated that Iraqi authorities had been accused of “arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions — particularly in pre-trial detention facilities — and arbitrary arrest and detention.” A Human Rights Watch report also noted that “unlawful arrest, long-term incommunicado detention, torture and other ill-treatment of detainees (including children) by Iraqi authorities have become routine and commonplace”.

Evidence of extra-judicial killings by the security forces has also come to light. Mr Sultan is investigating the case of three members of the Badr Corps, the paramilitary wing of one of the main Shia parties in government, who were arrested by police, handcuffed and beaten to death.

An Iraqi official said that the Iraqi National Guard, the US-trained paramilitary police, regularly disposed of the corpses of its victims by throwing them in the river. “The problem is that some people have still got that training from the past,” he said. “You have ten or twelve of them in the same unit working, and if they seize terrorists they will torture or kill them.”

He added that while the de facto death squads were not part of government policy, little was being done to counteract them. “These are exceptional times. It’s an emergency.”

General Adnan Thabet, the commandos’ commander and a special adviser to the Interior Minister, was a senior officer under Saddam. He was sentenced to death for plotting against the former dictator and was tortured after his sentence was commuted.

He denied any allegation of torture, but admitted: “This is a dirty war. We are the only ones with the nerves to fight it.”

See our last post on Iraq, and on the ongoing torture scandal.