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article imageReport: Iraqi human rights abuse is ‘commonplace’ - Part II

By Lynn Herrmann     Feb 25, 2011 in Politics
New York - A new report by Human Rights Watch reveals Iraq's most vulnerable are routinely abused, tortured and killed, with perpetrators rarely held accountable and Part II of this review looks at detainee torture and the plight of marginalized communities.
Part 1 of this report can be found here.
Torture of detainees
The story of detainee torture in Iraq is nothing new, with its activity being “commonplace” under the rule of Saddam Hussein, but the report, At a Crossroads: Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years after the US-Led Invasion, details brutal incidences showing the criminal activity did not abate after Hussein’s regime was toppled in 2003.
The HRW report states “serious abuses” took place in US and British-controlled facilities in Iraq after the occupation began. And US authorities, after transferring thousands of Iraqi detainees to Iraqi custody, failed to act upon viable evidence that Iraqi forces were killing, torturing and mistreating the detainees.
Detainee abuse is common and widespread in Iraq.  Here  a 34-year-old detainee sentenced to death in...
Detainee abuse is common and widespread in Iraq. Here, a 34-year-old detainee sentenced to death in 2008 said interrogators in 2007 blindfolded him and attacked him with a pipe on various parts of his body. His ensuing head would was left untreated.
Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
After the Abu Ghraib incident hit the headlines in 2004, HRW, along with the International Committee of the Red Cross and journalists have repeatedly documented severe cases of torture and inhuman treatment at other Iraqi locations, often controlled by various agencies of the US government.
The report references an investigative report of US military prisons in Iraq, by Maj. Gen. antonio M. Taguba titled Article 15-6 Investigation of the 800th Military Police Brigade (pdf) and the HRW report, No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq.
Officials at facilities across the country continually authorize the use of torture on detainees in order to coerce confessions for crimes they did not commit, in many cases with “seemingly unlimited brutality,” the report notes.
HRW conducted interviews in April 2010 with 42 detainees at Al Rusafa prison who had previously been held at a secret facility in West Baghdad’s old Muthanna airport, discovered there by HRW.
The HRW report states that
Each of the 42 inmates we interviewed there in April wanted to share his story, and each story was horrifically like the ones before.
The stories were consistent and believable. The detainees provided detailed descriptions of their abuse, including kicking, whipping and beatings. They were also asphyxiated, subjected to electric shocks, burned with cigarettes and had their teeth and fingernails pulled out. Some detainees were sodomized with pistol barrels and sticks.
Young detainees were forced to perform oral sex on their interrogators and guards. In other instances, interrogators forced detainees to molest each other. If detainees still refused to confess, interrogators would threaten to rape the detainees’ female family members.
Age, nationality or medical conditions of detainees does not prevent the torture and abuse. In one instance, a former general in the Iraqi army, after being arrested, was refused treatment for his high blood pressure and diabetes. In an April 2010 interview with HRW, he said:
“I was beaten up severely, especially on my head. They broke one of my teeth during the beatings... They applied electricity to my penis and sodomized me with a stick. I was forced to sign a confession that they wouldn’t let me read.”
Both trials and hearings are heavily dependent on confessions, witness testimony and secret informants, more so than on actual physical evidence. Because of that imbalance, human rights advocates question the fairness of court proceedings, given the blatant abuse that occurs at detention facilities in order to obtain those confessions.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has labeled the accounts of torture at Muthanna as “lies” and calls the accusations a “smear campaign,” HRW notes. The prime minister has in turn suggested the detainees’ scars are self-inflicted “by rubbing matches on some of their body parts,” according to the New York Times. As a result, he suspended the Ministry of Human Rights prison inspection team, the group to first uncover the abuses.
The report notes Iraq is legally bound to international human rights treaty law and customary law governing detainee treatment, pointing out torture and other detainee mistreatments are prohibited by a “longstanding and fundamental norm of customary international law.”
Naiel Thejel Ganeen  a leader of the Sabian Mandaean community  was kidnapped in 2006 and held for n...
Naiel Thejel Ganeen, a leader of the Sabian Mandaean community, was kidnapped in 2006 and held for nine days of torture, and repeatedly referred to as an infidel. He was released after kidnappers received a $40,000 ransom, but is left with a scarred arm suffered from shrapnel in a mock execution.
Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
Displaced and Marginalized Communities
Wars and ongoing violence over the last 30 years have forced the displacement of millions of Iraqis, pushing many into serious poverty and wretched living conditions. Religious minorities, especially non-Muslims, are subjected to attacks forcing an excessive number of them to leave the country.
In Baghdad, many internally displaced persons (IDPs) can be found in squatter settlements along railroad tracks, under bridges and among the city’s garbage dumps. In one IDP settlement located northwest of Baghdad, the squatters exist among mounds of garbage, living without safe drinking water, garbage collection, a sewage system, or other basic services.
Ethnic and religious minorities also make the list of human rights abuses in Iraq, especially non-Muslims. The report notes “a climate of impunity” has been created in the country because government security forces are unwilling to apprehend, prosecute, or punish perpetrators who attack such groups.
The Sabian Mandaeans - considered one of the world’s oldest religious groups - once numbered 50,000 to 60,000 in 2003. After the invasion and its ensuing reign of terror, almost 90 percent of Sabians either fled the country or have been killed. Today there are estimated to be 3,500 to 5,000 Sabians remaining in the country.
Sabians are now located in small groups around the globe and are fearful their culture, religion and language may come to an end.
The report reveals the plight of other religious groups including Shabaks, Chaldo-Assyrians, the Yazidis, who suffered one of the deadliest civilian attacks in the country since 2003. On August 14, 2007, four simultaneous truck bombings resulted in the deaths of more than 300 Yazidis, wounded an additional 700, and destroyed almost 400 homes in the communities of Qahtaniya, Jazira, and Azair, all located in the Sinjar district.
Amputees in Iraq face a difficult life. In 1991, Saddam Hussein significantly cut benefits for war amputees. One amputee interviewed for the report says he has the same prosthetics legs issued him in 1987 and when repairs are needed to them, he either does them himself or goes to a car repair shop.
In the report, another amputee told HRW: “In Saddam’s time, we had a Veteran Affairs Department that helped, but now no such office exists. Healthcare was free to us before but not anymore.”
Abandoned land mines and clusters munitions have resulted in an abnormally high number of disabled persons who are then subjected to hospitals, health and rehab institutions staffed with inadequate personnel or that have been subjected to harsh sanctions and the same wars, corruption and political strife the country has experienced.
The HRW report cites the International Committee of the Red Cross in noting that between 2003 and 2008, more than 2,200 doctors and nurses lost their lives in Iraq as a result of targeted killing.
Until human rights abuses are addressed and until Iraqi authorities defend those rights, the citizens of Iraq are likely to remain gripped within the crimes that a heightened sense of disrespect affords.
Internally displaced persons in Iraq receive little  if any  governmantal support.  Hassan  who is b...
Internally displaced persons in Iraq receive little, if any, governmantal support. Hassan, who is blind, fled his home in Taji, north of Baghdad, moving to Chikook with his wife and few belongings. He has no plan of moving back to his former neighborhood.
Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
Among the long list of recommendations to the Iraqi government, the HRW report calls for an amendment to the penal code that would remove any law allowing discrimination against women and associated “honor” killings and to combat human trafficking.
It also suggests removing vague content-based restrictions in the penal and civil codes regarding freedom of expression and removing excessive penalties against journalists and media organizations.
On the subject of torture, it recommends that all police, security forces and criminal justice officials be properly trained in human rights and calls for the establishment of accountability mechanisms. All allegations of torture and ill-treatment should be investigated by independent and impartial parties. All of Iraq’s detention facilities should be examined by the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Marginalized groups, including IDPs, should be provided the basic necessities, including shelter, water, food, medical, and sanitation services. A comprehensive national plan should be developed that will facilitate the voluntary return of refugees and IDPs. Again, it calls for independent and impartial investigations of all killings, torture, and beatings against the country’s minorities.
Persons with disabilities should have access to education and employment opportunities; they should have access to affordable, quality mobility aides and related assistive devices.
The HRW report calls on the US and UK governments to continue investigations and prosecutions of crimes by US and UK forces, including those in the chain of command, against Iraqis; assist Iraq in legal reform; establish that no one at risk of torture is turned over to Iraqi authority; and target funds for programs for persons with disabilities, ensuring those programs are available to persons with disabilities.
Terrorists in Iraq often time their attacks for maximum loss of life.  Here the remains of a bus in ...
Terrorists in Iraq often time their attacks for maximum loss of life. Here the remains of a bus in Najaf show the results of a car bomb that occurred days before the country’s parliamentary election on March 7, 2010. In all, three people were killed in this bombing and 50 were wounded.
Samer Muscati/Human Rights Watch
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