State Department documents Iraq torture

As we have noted before, these annual State Department human rights reports are not always so objective. But this year’s report throws a little cold water in the face of the Administration’s official optimism on Iraq—even if it implicitly gives the US a pass on “rendition.” From the International Herald Tribune, March 9:

Iraqi police units, often infiltrated and even dominated by members of sectarian militias, continue to be linked to arbitrary arrests and to the torture, rapes and deaths of detainees, the U.S. State Department reported in its yearly global rights review.

“The vast majority of human rights abuses reportedly carried out by government agents were attributed to the police,” the department said, referring to Iraq.

The State Department is not mandated to review U.S. rights abuses, and the report made no direct mention of such controversial practices as rendition – sending terror detainees to third countries for questioning.

The rights group Amnesty International assailed the report Wednesday for what it said was this “glaring omission.”

The group noted that the report criticized detainee treatment in Egypt and Jordan, countries to which the United States reportedly has sent detainees for interrogation.

For example, in Jordan, the report said, “The most frequently reported methods of torture included beating, sleep deprivation, extended solitary confinement and physical suspension.”

And in Egypt, “there were numerous, credible reports that security forces tortured and mistreated prisoners.”


Barry Lowenkron, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, was asked at a briefing about what a reporter suggested was the report’s problematic treatment of rendition.

“Let me be clear,” he replied, “we do not send detainees to countries if we believe that they will be subjected to torture.”

Asked how he could square that assertion with its depictions of abuse in countries like Egypt and Jordan, Lowenkron replied: “It is done on a case-by-case basis.”

But the report discussed the allegations of widespread abuses by Iraqi police – and far less so, by the country’s army – in some detail.

Amid a “climate of extreme violence” in Iraq, the report said, police abuses “included threats, intimidation, beatings, and suspension by the arms or legs, as well as the reported use of electric drills and cords and the application of electric shocks.”

It said that police units were often dominated by members of sectarian militias, including two Shiite groups, the Badr Organization and the Mahdi Army. These groups had sometimes abused their powers in pursuit of personal, party or sectarian goals, the review said.

The assessment thus underscored the difficulties U.S. forces have had in training reliable Iraqi replacements for American troops and security personnel.

It cited notable democratic progress in Iraq, including the election Dec. 15 of members of a new legislature. But it also listed serious problems, including “widespread corruption at all levels of government.”

It listed four serious incidents in which a total of more than 60 Iraqis had been detained by police officers – or others in police uniforms – and were later found dead. Investigations promised by the Interior Ministry had so far produced no results.

The report quoted a former Iraqi human rights minister, Bakhtiar Amin, as reporting on Feb. 6, 2005, that Interior Ministry detention centers were “a theater of violations of human rights,” including systematic torture.

A secret detention center in an underground Baghdad bunker controlled by the Interior Ministry was shut down after it was discovered on Nov. 13 and found to contain 169 detainees, most of them Sunnis, many of whom showed signs of torture.

The annual report, which is mandated by Congress, described serious problems in other countries with close U.S. ties, including flawed elections in Egypt, beatings and arbitrary arrests in Saudi Arabia, and floggings in the United Arab Emirates.

The assertion that rights conditions are worsening in Iran comes as the Bush administration has been pressing Tehran in increasingly forceful terms to curb its nuclear ambitions.

See our last posts on Iraq and the torture scandal.