Al-Maliki's office accused of torture at secret jail
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's military office is defying members of parliament and ignoring the government's own directive by operating a secretive jail in Baghdad's Green Zone where prisoners routinely face torture to extract confessions, Iraqi officials say.
Los Angeles Times
BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's military office is defying members of parliament and ignoring the government's own directive by operating a secretive jail in Baghdad's Green Zone where prisoners routinely face torture to extract confessions, Iraqi officials say.
Iraqi legislators and security officials have been joined by the International Committee of the Red Cross in expressing concern about the facility, called Camp Honor. In a confidential letter to the prime minister, the Red Cross requested immediate access to the jail and added that there could be three more connected to it where detainees also are being mistreated.
Iraq's Justice Ministry ordered Camp Honor shut down in March after parliament's human-rights committee toured the center and said it had uncovered evidence of torture.
The Human Rights Ministry denied Wednesday that the jail was still in operation. But several Iraqi officials familiar with the site said that anywhere from 60 to 120 people have been held there since it was ordered closed.
Allegations that the jail has continued to function are certain to launch a fresh debate about the breadth of powers belonging to al-Maliki and his closest associates. The jail falls under the prime minister's Office of the Commander in Chief, which supervises a vast military and security apparatus.
Al-Maliki supporters said he is committed to protecting human rights, but needs broad powers to navigate a treacherous domestic environment. The prime minister, a Shiite Muslim, is reluctant to loosen his grip on the army, police and his elite combat units, believing that any compromise would make it easier for opponents to organize a coup or political conspiracy, or would allow armed Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups to grow in strength.
Al-Maliki also has refused to permit his main political rival, the Iraqiya bloc led by Iyad Allawi, to choose the next defense minister, in defiance of an understanding on division of authority that took months to hammer out after inconclusive elections in March 2010. The position has remained vacant, with al-Maliki filling it for now.
The agreement also called for all security forces to be removed from the prime minister's office and restored to the normal chain of command. But the protracted negotiations over who should hold the key defense and interior ministries, which could last into next year, have allowed al-Maliki to preserve his authority.
The dispute over who directs Iraq's security forces is fueling a sense of drift as tens of thousands of U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq.
Adnan Assadi, a member of the prime minister's political coalition who serves as deputy interior minister, said in an interview that it was vital for al-Maliki to maintain control of Iraq's security because he will be blamed for any failures. "The ministries of Defense and Interior are like the right and left hand for the commander in chief," Assadi said.
Until the March inspection, the Camp Honor jail had illustrated the prime minister's supremacy on security matters. He has faced complaints since 2008 over his control of the U.S.-trained counterterrorism service and a security force known as the Baghdad Brigade, or Brigade 56. The units possessed their own jails, investigative judges and interrogators, answering only to the prime minister's military office.
Critics say many jailed by those forces are locked up for political reasons, because of personal feuds or to cover up corruption. But because of the opaque nature of the security forces and the jails they run, it is difficult to determine whether that is true.
The prime minister's military office promised reforms when, in April 2010, it was found to be running a separate secret jail in western Baghdad, where more than 400 inmates had been held for months. But nothing changed at Camp Honor, where family members and attorneys were barred from seeing detainees and allegations of torture were rampant.
Lawmakers, security officials and the Red Cross letter expressed deep concern that despite parliament's success in extracting the pledge to close Camp Honor, people were still being imprisoned there.
Detainees "are still being held by the counterterrorism center or Brigade 56 in the same location they declared was shut down," said Salim Abdullah Jabouri, the head of parliament's human-rights committee. "These people are held 30-50 days. After they have obtained confessions, the detainee is transferred to Rusafa (one of Baghdad's main detention facilities) with his confession."
Jabouri said he became aware of the detentions after he started looking for a leader of the Sunni Awakening movement who had helped U.S. troops fight Islamic extremists in northern Iraq.
Jabouri said he received a phone call about three weeks ago from the man, who said he had been transferred to a regular jail after he was tortured in the Green Zone facility and confessed to being a member of the militant group al-Qaida in Iraq and of a wing of the late dictator Saddam Hussein's Baath party.
As many as 120 detainees have been through the secret jail since March, Jabouri said. Most of the cases he knew of involved prisoners from provinces with large Sunni populations, where security forces regularly carry out raids looking for Islamic militants and members of the former Baath party.
The Red Cross said in a May 22 letter that detainees it had interviewed after they'd been transferred out of the facility reported beatings, electric shock to the genitals and other parts of the body, suffocation using plastic bags, scalding with boiling water, burning with cigarettes, being hung from ceilings with hands tied behind their backs or being hung upside down, the pulling out of fingernails, being left naked for hours, and rape using sticks or bottles.
Detainees also alleged that female family members were brought to Camp Honor and raped in front of them, the Red Cross said.
A security official confirmed that detainees were guarded at Camp Honor by the Baghdad Brigade, probably in a building that could hold up to 60 or 70 prisoners and which had been used previously to hide detainees when inspectors came to the base.
Government spokesman Ali Dabbagh referred questions about the facility to the Human Rights Ministry, where officials insisted it had been shut down. "Absolutely, it is closed," said ministry official Kamal Amin.
Supporters say al-Maliki is committed to human rights and shouldn't be held responsible for abuses by people within the ranks of the security forces.
The Red Cross letter to the Iraqi government said it was "seriously worried regarding the possibility that the interrogations are continuing in Camp Honor."
The letter, shown to the Los Angeles Times by an Iraqi source, cited what it called credible allegations that three other secret facilities existed in the Green Zone, which it said were still being used "to hide and hold detainees when committees visit the main prison."
The Red Cross declined to confirm or deny the authenticity of the letter because of its policy of not discussing publicly its detainee inspections or correspondence with governments.
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