Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Iraq's REAL prisoners of war

When the US-led coalition attacked Iraq they promised to make it a better place, they promised to put an end to Saddam Hussain's tyranny and his gross human rights violations. But did the Iraq war make the country a better place or simply let the systemic torture and injustice continue with just a different figurehead?

After the US-led invasion and the toppling of Saddam's regime, the coalition along with Iraqi forces picked up thousands of people including women and put them behind bars in secret locations without any charge or trial. Even with a democratic Iraq now, the stories of Iraq's 'secret' prisons are deafening.  

According to an Amnesty International (AI) report released today, in Iraq there have been 'widespread abuse of detainees committed with impunity'. At least 30,000 people are detained in secret prisons across Iraq without any charges. These men and women are held incommunicado and have no access to lawyers. Torture and ill treatment are  commonplace.

What is worse is that the Iraqi forces use torture to get a forced 'confession' out of the detainees and then put them through unfair trials.  The Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI) often convicts defendants on the basis of these 'confessions', ignoring any pleas of torture even with clear evidence in many cases. The result: 1300 prisoners are on the death row!  

Iraqi prisoner seen at al-Muthanna prison in Baghdad, Iraq in May 2010. Human Rights Watch says this 'secret' detention facility was operated by elite forces controlled by the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (AP Photo)
 In April 2010, when the Iraqi authorities released 95 detainees from the old Muthanna airport prison, all of them were traumatised and had horror stories to tell. One detainee told AI, “We [father and son] were tortured in the same manner: suspension from a bed upside-down, suffocation by putting plastic bags on our heads, beatings, use of electric shocks on various parts of the body... After that I confessed. I confessed to things I never knew what they were.”

Another detainee explained the guard's popular method of torture called 'oxygen'- 'The most horrible method is asphyxiation by plastic bag. You don’t last for more than 5 or 10 seconds and you start running out of breath. Then you are basically forced to say I will confess and sign anything you want me to sign.'

In early 2009, human rights organisations warned the US  forces, during the transfer of detainees to Iraqi authorities that these prisoners would be at grave risk of torture in Iraqi-run prisons if rigorous safeguards were not implemented. The US government ignored it.

Perhaps not surprising, after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004, when reports of prisoner abuse by US soldiers including torture, rape, sodomy, homicide etc came into the public glare. Soldiers of the 320th Military Police Battalion were charged with these crimes and further investigations were ordered to save face but with few results.

Documents released by WikiLeaks in October 2010 show that the US troops allegedly abused prisoners for years even after the Abu Ghraib scandal and that the US ignored systemic abuse, rape and even murder by Iraqi police and soldiers. In one instance, a leaked document describes instances of Iraqi soldiers urinating, jumping, and spitting upon a detainee. 

A review of the leaked documents reveal more than 1,000 allegations of abuse committed by Iraqi security forces. Hundreds of them are supported by medical evidence and other corroboration. These reports demonstrate a clear pattern of abuse and torture in Iraqi jails, one that a high-level Pentagon directive barred US forces from investigating saying, 'due to no allegation or evidence of US involvement, a US investigation is not being initiated.' So much for securing democracy in Iraq!

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that '303 allegations of abuse by coalition forces were reported in the military files after 2004'. So when the protector of people turn into savage beast, then where do you go to seek justice?

Ramze Ahmed has been detained in Iraq
 This is what Rahiba al-Qassab is asking on the eve of her husband's Ramze Shihab Ahmed trial.  Ramze, a British citizen, went to Iraq from his home in the UK in November 2009 to try to secure the release of his son, who had been detained two months earlier. He was first held in an the secret al-Muthanna prison between December 2009 and April 2010 and then moved to al-Rusafa prison. 

His family has no idea of his whereabouts until 25 March 2010 when he managed to call his wife from prison. Ramze  too alleges that he been repeatedly tortured. He was held without charge for a year but has recently been charged under Anti terror legislation. It may attract a death sentence.  

His trial will probably be a test to gauge if the 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' simply gave the Iraqi forces freedom to carry atrocities or has liberated the country enough to put an end to an unjust judicial system.

No comments: