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September 24, 2004

Torture and Rape Rampant in Iraq Prisons


by Lisa Ashkenaz Croke
TheNewStandard

HUNTINGTON WOODS, MICH. - American legal investigators have discovered evidence of abuse, torture and rape throughout the U.S.-run prison system in Iraq. A Michigan legal team meeting with former detainees in Baghdad during an August fact-finding mission gathered evidence supporting claims of prisoner abuse at some 25 U.S.-run detention centers, most of them so far not publicly mentioned as being embroiled in the Iraq torture scandal.

"That list was something that we came back with – we only knew of three prisons going there," investigator Mohammed Alomari told The NewStandard, referring to the few detention centers in Iraq where concerns over treatment of prisoners have already been raised publicly.

The list includes some actual prisons, such as al-Salihiya Prison in Baghdad, the notorious prison in Abu Ghraib, and a prison at Camp Bucca, a Coalition-built POW camp in the southern port city of Um-Qasr. Other detention centers have been established at military bases, such as the U.S. military compound at al-Dhiloeia, north of Baghdad; a U.S. base outside Fallujah; and the Hilla military compound, a joint U.S.-Polish base where Alomari said he has recently been informed of allegations against U.S. and Polish personnel.

"Nobody talks about it. All everyone talks about is Abu Ghraib because of the pictures," said Alomari. "But in these other places, there's tons of acts of torture, abuse, rape."

During an interview with Alomari and attorney Shereef Akeel, TNS reviewed documentation the men accumulated covering 53 separate cases of former detainees alleging gross mistreatment at the U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. All of the witnesses have been vetted, said Akeel, their presence at various detention centers corroborated by official, U.S. military-issued paperwork and identification information.

Some of the plaintiffs allege U.S. captors committed severe abuses against them as recently as this summer, challenging the widely-held assumption that the military has put an end to the violations.

A steady stream of reports from a contact in Iraq has kept new cases crossing Akeel's desk almost daily since the team returned from Iraq over a month ago. Cases raised since the team's return stateside will be verified and investigated in the future.

Akeel says he learned of the horrible conditions and practices at Abu Ghraib almost a month before the rest of the American public, when a man he calls "Saleh" came into his Huntington Woods, Mich., office with an ID bracelet from Abu Ghraib and a horrific story of his rape and abuse at the infamous U.S.-run prison.

"I said, 'Abu what?'" recalled Akeel. "I didn't even know about Abu Ghraib. I couldn't believe it. I mean, I didn't – it was so outlandish."

"Then the pictures came out," Akeel said.

While many of the detention centers where Akeel's clients say abuses took place were established under Saddam Hussein, most appear to be facilities put to use as prisons during the U.S.-led occupation.

A group called the Committee for the Release of Hostages and Detainees in Iraq (CROHDI), a Saddam-era human rights group based in Scotland, counted over 50 known prisons and detention centers in Iraq. CROHDI's list includes the airport near the al-Habbaniya Resort Island and various places now used as military bases where the American investigative team uncovered cases of prisoner abuse last month.

Shortly after the invasion in 2003, the U.S. Army established Camp Cropper, a massive, mostly outdoor facility located at Baghdad International Airport. Camp Cropper was mentioned in a Red Cross report [.pdf] leaked to the press last spring and received some press attention after the U.S. military banned Amnesty International from visiting prisoners there last summer.

During their trip, the American investigators heard accounts of abuse from former Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib detainees, but also from released inmates held at another airport camp in Baquba, an hour northeast of Baghdad.

Since returning, Alomari says that they have learned of prison abuse at the airport at al-Habbaniya Resort Island located an hour west of the city, and at an airport camp in the northern city of Mosul.

The majority of detention centers where former inmates allege American soldiers and contractors committed acts of abuse were found in and around Baghdad, most of them buildings that had been converted into prisons. Students living at Mustansiriya University student housing were "kicked out," said Alomari, and U.S. troops reportedly turned the dorms into a detention center. Other such facilities were reported on the grounds of the Akai Pharmaceutical Company Compound, the Palace of Conferences located across from the al-Rasheed hotel, the Scania transportation depot and the al-Sijood Palace in Baghdad.

Tikrit is the only other city listed with multiple prisons where former inmates have so far reported abuses to the American investigators. First enclosed with barbed wire at the end of the war, Tikrit's neighboring villages were similarly imprisoned in the weeks leading up to Hussein's capture, when residents say they woke one morning to find that the U.S. military had enveloped their villages in barbed wire and set up checkpoints during the night.

Detention centers in Tikrit reportedly include one of Saddam Hussein's Presidential Palaces, Uday Hussein's former horse stables, and the U.S.-confiscated Tikrit Elementary School. All of these appear to be newly established prisons, as none appear on CRODHI's list of known centers of incarceration.

As the vice president and media director for the nonprofit Focus on American & Arab Interests & Relations (FAAIR), Alomari had been traveling in and out of Iraq since December, giving seminars on American democracy to Iraq's academic and political leaders. "I came back about mid-June and about a week later Shereef [Akeel] called me," said Alomari. "He told me he wanted to go to Iraq; he wanted to investigate these cases."

Akeel had teamed up with attorneys in Philadelphia and New York to work with the Center for Constitutional Rights in bringing a lawsuit against private security firms Titan Corp. and CACI International. The class action suit accuses the U.S. firms of violating the Alien Tort Claims Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) by engaging in illegal abuse and torture of detainees with the goal of securing lucrative government contracts.

In fact, despite a recent military report recommending criminal charges be filed against at least two Titan employees contracted as translators at Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S. Army has awarded a six month "bridging contract" to the San Diego-based security firm to continue providing translators and interpreters after its current contract ends this month. The Associated Press reports that the new contract could bring Titan as much as $400 million.

Both Titan and CACI have repeatedly denied allegations that their personnel have been involved in any illegal activity or wrongdoing. They have said the lawsuit against them is unfounded and have stood by specific employees accused of torture.

Akeel says the discovery of gross mistreatment at over two dozen prisons controlled by the U.S. military is "another piece of the puzzle," and could strengthen the legal team's case. Pieces have been put into place with the declassified sections of three military reports investigating prison abuse in Iraq. Though the findings have been limited to activities at Abu Ghraib, Akeel says they still provide evidence of private contractors at both firms engaging in crimes against former detainees.

The legal team's next move is to fit former detainees' descriptions of assailants and prison release papers with names and photographs of Titan and CACI employees contracted to the prisons. It is not yet known if Titan or CACI workers were contracted to the majority of the prisons where detainees allege abuse took place.


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Lisa Ashkenaz Croke is a Chicago-based writer and features editor for the fledging Third Coast Press. She’s spent the past year researching and drafting reports on Iraq’s post-war occupation for YellowTimes.org. Her work has appeared on various US and European-based IndyMedia.org websites and including, UNObserver.com, GlobalPolicy.org and OccupationWatch.org.

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