Mon, Jul 24, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Torture continued after Abu Ghraib, rights group says

AFP , NEW YORK

Prisoners in US custody in Iraq faced routine torture even after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, with military leaders taking little or no action to curb abuses, according to a human rights group.

In a report released yesterday, based on first-hand accounts from US military personnel, Human Rights Watch detailed mistreatment of detainees that ranged from severe beatings and sleep deprivation to exposure to extreme temperatures.

The abuses were not just ignored but also actively organized by the military chain of command, the New York-based rights watchdog alleged.

"Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk," said John Sifton, author of the 53-page report.

"These accounts rebut US government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional -- on the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used," Sifton said.

The report quoted one interrogator who said the leader of his unit at Camp Nama -- a detention center at Baghdad airport -- had encouraged abuse.

"People wanted to go, go, go harsh on everybody," the interrogator said. "They thought that was their job and that's what they needed to do, and do it every time."

In several instances described in the report, detainee abuse was apparently reported to the military leadership in Baghdad and Washington, but nothing was done.

A military police guard at a base near al-Qaim on the Syrian border told Human Rights Watch he had complained to an officer about beatings and other abuse he witnessed but was told to drop the issue.

"It was repeatedly emphasized to me that this was not a wise course of action to pursue," he said.

The US military says 14,000 prisoners are currently held in US-run detention centers in Iraq.

According to the report, detainee mistreatment was an established part of the interrogation process for much of the period from 2003 to last year, despite the widespread outrage that greeted the evidence of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.

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