Iraq: Abusing the Position of Power

Issue section: 
(293)

Two reports have revealed that the issue of torture of Iraqi detainees is far more widespread than either US or British officials would have us believe.

The first report, from Human Rights Watch, found that Iraqi police and intelligence forces themselves have been involved in the abuse of detainees.

On the basis of research conducted between July and October 2004, the report concludes that Iraqi police and security services conducted arrests without warrants, and that many detainees were beaten with cables, hosepipes and metal rods. Detainees also reported 'prolonged suspension from the wrists with the hands tied behind the backs and electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body'.

The majority of detainees Human Rights Watch talked to said that torture and ill-treatment under detention was routine, and many bore visible signs of abuse. But the report also discloses that US officials often turned a blind eye to what was going on. In part this is because it is the US who trained and recruited people to the Iraqi police. Also US advisers have relied upon the Iraq police for information, which meant it was official policy to give low priority to reports of abuse.

The second report comes from the American Civil Liberties Union, which forced the disclosure of documents from the US government proving that the army failed to investigate allegations of abuse of detainees under US control. 'Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse,' said ACLU executive director Anthony D Romero. 'The documents that the ACLU have obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib.'

In some of the investigations where abuse was found the soldiers were 'sent back with a slap on the wrist', says the ACLU report. In other cases investigations were abandoned because abusive conduct was characterised as acceptable practice or as 'standard operating procedure'.

Taken together, these reports suggest that, far from there being a few rotten apples involved in the abuse of Iraqis, this is a widespread practice that is officially sanctioned.