Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody

February 8th, 2005 - by admin

Introduction / Human Rights Watch – 2005-02-08 23:50:10

The New Iraq? Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody
Human Rights Watch

Since the appointment of the Iraqi Interim Government in June 2004, Iraqi officials have stated on many occasions that respect for human rights and the rule of law remains a priority, and that tough measures to bring the security situation under control and to reduce the level of violent crime would remain consistent with international human rights standards.

The findings of Human Rights Watch’s research has shown otherwise, and led to the conclusion that under the banner of bringing security and stability across Iraq, tolerance of the abuse of detainees by government agencies remains high.

On the basis of research conducted in Iraq from July to October 2004, Human Rights Watch found that the abuse of detainees by the Iraqi police and intelligence forces has become routine and commonplace. The police and intelligence services conduct arrests without warrants issued by an appropriate judicial authority, (4) frequently on the basis of information provided by “secret informants” from within the police force.

Many persons reported being beaten at the time of their arrest and being very tightly bound in handcuffs or tightly blindfolded. Contrary to the provisions of Iraq’s Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), which requires a defendant to be brought before an investigating judge within twenty-four hours of arrest, (5) the vast majority had been held without appearing before a judge for far longer – in some cases for almost four months.

Torture Reportedly ‘Commonplace’
The majority of the detainees interviewed for this report stated that torture and ill-treatment during the initial period of detention was commonplace in facilities under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior’s specialized police agencies. Methods of torture or ill-treatment cited included routine beatings to the body using a variety of implements such as cables, hosepipes and metal rods.

Detainees reported kicking, slapping and punching; prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the back; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, including the earlobes and genitals; and being kept blindfolded and/or handcuffed continuously for several days. In several cases, the detainees suffered what may be permanent physical disability.

Conditions of pre-trial detention are poor. Detainees reported receiving little or no food or water for several days at a stretch, and being held in severely overcrowded cells with no room for lying down to sleep, without air conditioning, and in unhygienic conditions. Many detainees also reported being beaten at the time of their arrest and being very tightly bound in handcuffs or tightly blindfolded.

No Presumption of Innocence
There is little protection from self-incrimination. In many high profile cases, detainees reported that Ministry of Interior officials invited journalists to photograph them and show their photographs in local newspapers or on television.

The press commonly labeled them as “criminals” before any preliminary investigations had taken place. Another very common complaint made by such detainees is that police interrogators made them sign statements without being informed of their content or having the opportunity to read them beforehand. They frequently reported that they were forced to sign or fingerprint such statements while blindfolded, often at the end of an interrogation session during which they were physically abused.

Having undergone such treatment, in many such cases followed by Human Rights Watch through the courts, investigative judges released the detainees upon questioning because of insufficient evidence (see Section VII).

Freedom from Torture… For a Price
Corruption is a major impediment to respect for basic rights. One of the most common complaints made by detainees was of police officials threatening them with indefinite detention if they failed to pay them sums of money.

The vast majority interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that extortion was rife, and that the refusal or inability to pay such bribes resulted in the detainees remaining in custody until they were eventually referred to court, or released without charge, often several weeks later: “The real criminals, who are able to pay with the proceeds of their crimes, get out, while the poor ones remain behind” was a constant theme running through the accounts recorded by Human Rights Watch. (6)

Officials at detention facilities routinely denied relatives and defense counsel access to detainees. Although several detainees said they had seen lawyers coming into their cell to talk to others held with them, this appeared to be the exception rather than the rule.

Friends or relatives who were able to gain access to detainees, again the exception rather than the rule, told Human Rights Watch that they secured such access only through the payment of bribes to police officials, or through highly-placed connections, or both. Instances of access as recorded by Human Rights Watch only applied to the Major Crimes Directorate facility in al-‘Amiriyya, one of the main pre-trial detention facilities.

The organization was unable to find any instances where either legal counsel or relatives of detainees were able to gain access – even through illicit means – to other detention facilities under Ministry of Interior jurisdiction, notably those located within the ministry’s compound.

No Signs of Reform
There is little indication that any serious measures have been taken to enforce existing laws and put an end to these practices. Human Rights Watch is aware of only a handful of cases in which investigations into allegations of torture or ill-treatment by Iraqi law enforcement personnel resulted in the conviction of the perpetrators, and none of those convicted received prison time.

An official acknowledgment that police had carried out arrests without warrant came from the minister of interior in response to questions asked by several members of the Interim National Assembly in its October 18, 2004 session: the press quoted Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib as saying that, “There were mistakes in arresting some people without a warrant according to the law, and we will work hard to stop it.” (7)

Human Rights Watch was not aware of criminal proceedings that the Iraqi Interim Government may have since commenced with regard to the offending officials or of measures adopted to prevent future recurrence.

The vulnerability of detainees held by the Ministry of Interior’s specialized agencies is compounded by the Ministry’s unwillingness to institute reforms promulgated by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). (8) In June 2003, the CPA transferred responsibility for the management of all detention and prison facilities previously under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice. (9)

Accompanying the order that introduced this change was an Implementing Memorandum that set out basic standards for the operation of all such facilities, regulating matters including conditions of detention, medical services, discipline and punishment, complaints by prisoners, and inspection of facilities. (10)

To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, these regulations are not applied in practice to the facilities controlled by the Ministry of Interior, which continues to run a parallel system of detentions beyond the reach of Ministry of Justice officials and inspectors.

US Advisors Have Failed to Secure Human Rights
The US government has devoted considerable resources towards providing international advisers to assist the Iraqi Interim Government in the training and equipping of Iraq’s security and police forces. Unfortunately, these advisers, working closely with the Ministry of Interior on law enforcement and detention issues, have apparently given low priority to addressing the crucial issue of detainee abuse by the Iraqi police as they work towards increasing the capability and effectiveness of these forces.

A number of key advisers work at the level of the Ministry, while others are on site at detention facilities under its jurisdiction, but Human Rights Watch is not aware of any serious measures taken by these advisers to assist the Iraqi authorities in addressing issues related to the abuse of detainees (see Section X).

There is a great and urgent need for access to detention facilities by independent monitors. At this writing, the ICRC’s ability to conduct regular visits to places of detention other than those run by Multinational Force authorities remained limited for security reasons.

No international human rights organization has had access to detention facilities under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi Ministries of Interior or Justice to date, including Human Rights Watch, whose own request for access remains outstanding. Human Rights Watch understands that discussions were underway to grant staff of the Ministry of Human Rights access to Iraqi Interim Government-run facilities, but at the time the organization carried out its research for this report, few such visits were taking place.


• [4] Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), No. 23 of 1971, as amended, Article 92. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) amended the CCP at various times since April 2003.

• [5] CCP, Article 123.

• [6] The amounts that interrogators or other police officials allegedly demanded ranged from one hundred U.S. dollars to as much as several thousand dollars, well beyond the means of most Iraqis today. Some of those interviewed told Human Rights Watch that sometimes there followed a negotiating process, whereby the sums demanded were reduced and/or asked for in Iraqi dinar equivalents. Since sovereignty transfer in late June 2004, the exchange rate for one U.S. dollar has averaged between 1.40 to 1.46 Iraqi dinars.

• [7] “Sacking of crusading judge fans concerns over Iraq rights record”, Agence France Presse, October 18, 2004.

• [8] In accordance with Article 26(A) of the Transitional Administration Law (TAL), “Except as otherwise provided in this Law, the laws in force in Iraq on 30 June 2004 shall remain in effect unless and until rescinded or amended by the Iraqi Transitional Government in accordance with this Law.” Just prior to sovereignty transfer, the CPA Administrator transferred authority over the Iraqi prison system to the minister of justice (CPA/ORD/28 June 2004/100: Transition of Laws, Regulations, Orders, and Directives Issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority). Section 6(2) of CPA Order 100 stated that “… the minister of justice shall remain in full control of the Iraqi prison system and shall report periodically to the Prime Minister regarding the status of the Iraqi prison system…. ”
To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, no further amendments to legislation introduced by the CPA relating to the management of prison and detention facilities have since been made.

• [9] CPA/ORD/8 June 2003/10 (Management of Detention and Prison Facilities).

• [10] CPA/MEM/8 June 2003/02 (Management of Detention and Prison Facilities). Under Section 14(5) of the Memorandum, ICRC delegates shall be granted access “whenever sought,” giving them authority “to inspect health, sanitation and living arrangements and to interview all detainees in private,” as well as to pass messages to and from the families of the detainees.

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