UN report: death squads in Iraq

From Reuters, Sept. 8, via TruthOut:

Baghdad – The United Nations raised the alarm on Thursday about mounting violence in Iraq blamed on pro-government militias and urged the authorities to look into reports of systematic torture in police stations.

In a bi-monthly human rights report, released on a day when 14 more victims of “extrajudicial executions” were found near Baghdad, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq also said “mass arrests” by US and Iraqi forces, and long detentions without charge, could damage support for the new political system.

“Corpses appear regularly in and around Baghdad and other areas. Most bear signs of torture and appear to be victims of extrajudicial executions,” it said, noting incidents reported after arrests by “forces linked to the Ministry of Interior”.

“Serious allegations of extra-judicial executions … underline a deterioration in the situation of law and order.”

The Shi’ite-led government has denied accusations from the once dominant Sunni Arab minority that it tolerates sectarian death squads among police forces. It has admitted that abuses do occur but has vowed to crack down. Sunni insurgents are also accused of mass killings of civilians and security personnel.

Sunni leaders were angered when 36 bound and blindfold men were found tortured and shot near the Iranian border two weeks ago. On Thursday, police said they found 14 bodies, similarly tied, some of them policemen, in a farm stream south of Baghdad.

Doctors in nearby Mahmudiya, where the bodies were taken, said the deaths appeared to have taken place two days earlier.


Such killings have contributed to sectarian tensions as Iraq prepares to vote in a referendum on a new constitution, which many Sunni leaders say they will oppose. Anxious to stabilise Iraq, Washington has tried to engage Sunnis, who lost influence with the fall of Saddam Hussein, in the electoral process.

The UN report indicated widespread and lengthy detentions of suspected Sunni insurgents may be counter-productive: “The high number of persons detained … continues to be a matter of concern … It would be beneficial to establish mechanisms for speedier consideration of detainee cases which could have a beneficial impact on the overall political process.”

The treatment of detainees was also worrying: “Accounts … consistently point to the systematic use of torture during interrogations at police stations and within other premises belonging to the Ministry of the Interior,” it said.

The UN body said it had raised such issues with the Iraqi government, which insists that Iraq has put repression behind it, and expected it to publish reports on its investigations.

The United Nations repeated its condemnation of Iraq’s revival of the death penalty; it hanged three criminals last week and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said this week that his predecessor, Saddam, should be “hanged 20 times a day.”

See our last post on the Iraq war.

  1. Journalists targeted in Iraq
    From TruthOut:

    Journalists Held Without Charges at Abu Ghraib

    Reuters, 31 August 2005

    A cameraman for Reuters in Iraq has been ordered by a secret tribunal to be held without charge in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison until his case is reviewed within six months, a US military spokesman said on Wednesday.

    Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani was arrested by US forces on August 8 after a search of his home in the city of Ramadi. The US military has refused Reuters requests to disclose why he is being held. He has not been charged.

    His brother, who was detained with him and then released, said they were arrested after Marines looked at the images on the journalist’s cameras.

    “The CRRB has determined that Mr. Mashhadani remains a threat to the people of Iraq and they recommended continued internment,” Lieutenant Colonel Guy Rudisill said, referring to a hearing of the Iraqi-US Combined Review and Release Board held at a secret location in Baghdad on Monday.

    He said Mashhadani would be entitled to a review of his case within 180 days and would be held at Abu Ghraib.

    Rudisill said he would not be allowed to see an attorney, his family or anyone else for the first 60 days of his detention, which began in Abu Ghraib last week.

    Reuters Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger said: “I am shocked and appalled that such a decision could be taken without his having access to legal counsel of his choosing, his family or his employers.

    “I call on the authorities to release him immediately or publicly air the case against him and give him the opportunity to defend himself.”


    Mashhadani’s home was searched along with others in the neighborhood after shooting in the area.

    Such shooting is common in Ramadi, where Sunni Arab insurgents are active. Reuters assigned Mashhadani to film such incidents.

    “The CRRB Board is an independent and unbiased board and consists of nine members: six representatives of the Iraqi government … and three senior Multi-National Forces officers,” the US military said in a statement on the case.

    Rudisill said he was aware of five journalists for major news media in detention, including Mashhadani and another freelance cameraman who has worked for Reuters, as well as a cameraman for the US television network CBS.

    Journalists for other major international organizations have recently been released without charge after many months in custody.

    Reuters is urgently seeking a detailed account of any accusations against Mashhadani.

    Reuters soundman Waleed Khaled was killed in Baghdad on Sunday, apparently by US troops, and cameraman Haider Kadhem, who was wounded in the same incident, has been held ever since by the US military for questioning. Reuters has demanded his immediate release.

    Iraqi police said US troops fired into the car carrying the Reuters team.

    TV Reporter 67th Journalist Killed in Iraq

    Salon.com, Aug. 30

    Baghdad – An Iraqi television journalist who was killed covering a demonstration east of Baghdad became the 67th journalist to die in the Iraq war, a media advocacy group said Tuesday.

    Rafed Mahmoud al-Rubai was shot by unidentified gunmen while covering a pro-Saddam Hussein rally on Saturday. Rubai, a freelance contributor to the Iraqi TV station Al Irakiya, died instantly, Reporters Without Borders said.

    “Rafid became a target after he did a great job during the elections” in January, Iraqiya’s editor-in-chief Bassem al-Fadly said.

    Rubai was the 67th journalist or media assistant to be killed in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003. In addition, two are still missing, it said. In contrast, a total of 63 journalists were killed in the Vietnam war, which lasted from 1955 to 1975.

    The International Federation of Journalists on Monday urged the United Nations to investigate deaths of media staff at the hands of coalition forces in Iraq. The organization said the death of Reuters television sound technician Waleed Khaled on Sunday brought to 18 the number of journalists and other members of the media killed by US troops since the invasion of Iraq.

    See our last post on the torture scandal.