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May 27, 2004

Amnesty: Abu Ghraib Cases Not Isolated

by Jim Lobe

London, (IPS) - The abuses committed by U.S. agents in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad are not isolated cases, Amnesty International says in its annual report published Wednesday.

Amnesty had handed in a report documenting abuses by the U.S. government long before the photographs of abuse surfaced, prompting Amnesty Secretary-General Irene Khan to remark that accountability in the United States is "better generated by Kodak."

Amnesty has been investigating human rights violations including allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees by coalition forces for more than a year.

"Testimonies from former detainees indicates a similar pattern of abuse," the Amnesty report says. "Detainees were forced to lie face down on the ground, handcuffed, hooded or blindfolded during arrest. During interrogation they were reportedly repeatedly beaten, restrained for prolonged periods in painful positions, while some were also subjected to sleep deprivation, prolonged forced standing, and exposed to loud music and bright lights."

Amnesty says that addressing these incidents must be a priority if the Iraqi people are to live free of brutal and degrading practices. "For Iraq to have a sustainable and peaceful future, human rights must be a central component of the way forward," it says in its report.

The Amnesty report cites several case histories. Among them:

- Khreisan Khalis Aballey, 39, was arrested at his home in Baghdad on April 30, 2003 because coalition forces thought he knew the whereabouts of a Ba'ath party member. During his interrogation at Baghdad's airport detention facility, he was made to stand or kneel facing a wall for seven- and-a-half days, hooded, and handcuffed tightly with plastic strips. A bright light was placed next to his hood while distorted music was played. He reported that a U.S. soldier stamped on his foot, tearing off one of his toenails.

- Abdallah Khudhran al-Shamran, a Saudi, reported after his release that he had been subjected to electric shocks. Other torture methods reportedly included being suspended from his legs and having his penis tied. He also reported sleep deprivation through the playing of constant loud music.

- Shakir, a 30-year-old taxi driver from Basra was arrested with his friend by British soldiers on April 10, 2003. Shakir alleged that British soldiers hit him on the mouth and broke one of his teeth. He said "they put a hood over my head and tied my hands behind my back, every now and then one or two soldiers would come and kick me, it lasted all night. When I asked for water, they beat me, I was bleeding from the mouth but they would not take me to the bathroom to wash it."

Among detainees who died in custody, some died in circumstances suggesting that torture was the cause of death, Amnesty reports.

Baha Dawud al-Maliki was among eight Iraqi hotel workers arrested on Sept. 14, 2003 by British soldiers in Basra. All eight were reportedly subjected to severe beatings by the soldiers. Three days later Baha's father was handed his son's body, severely bruised and covered in blood.

Amnesty quotes a 50-year-old woman who was accused of hosting Ba'athists in her house, which she denied. She told Amnesty in February this year: "Inside a bathroom in front of our cell – which measured about two by three meters – the American intelligence, day and night were conducting their investigations with the male inmates.

"They used to bring the male prisoners to this bathroom/interrogation room, completely naked and with a black hood over their heads. The hood had a string attached to it which an American soldier would hold in order to pull the prisoner in the direction he wanted him in."

The Amnesty report says she recalled an incident when Abu Ghraib was once hit with mortars. Some of the inmates held in the tents cheered and demonstrated. In order to punish them, she said, some Americans brought in 14 male inmates naked and handcuffed, and asked them to open their legs. They beat them up from behind until they fell on the floor, again asked them to open their legs and beat them from behind in a way to hurt their genital organs. There were many screams, she stated.

During that night 14 inmates were sent to the hospital, according to the woman's account quoted by Amnesty. Another punishment was to make prisoners walk on all fours, and soldiers would pull them from the hoods covering their heads.

Whenever they brought in a new prisoner, they would always bring in a block of ice. The interrogation sessions were followed, a few hours later, by a visit to the prisoner, who by then would be unconscious, by two doctors, an American and an Iraqi. The prisoners were invariably taken out of the interrogation room unconscious, she told Amnesty.

Amnesty had first raised concerns about torture of detainees as early as July 2003 when it issued the report "Iraq: Memorandum on Concerns Relating to Law and Order," which formed the basis for Amnesty's talks with officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad.

"Military action in Iraq was touted as the way to democracy and freedom," Khan said at the launch of the report. "Instead it opened the path to insurgency, endangering Iraqis as well as coalition forces. It led to torture in the prisons, and killings on the streets, the detention of thousands of Iraqis and the death of more than 10,000 civilians."

The U.N. Security Council must now focus not just on "the formal trappings of Iraqi sovereignty but on a genuine effort to ensure the human rights of the Iraqi people and clarify where that responsibility lies and how it will be discharged," Khan said.

She added: "There is a real risk that Iraq could become another Afghanistan, the graveyard of failed strategies and false promises, endangering people in the country and around the world."

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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