Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US troops raid Iraqi abuse site


American military police on Tuesday raided a building belonging to the Iraqi interior ministry where prisoners were allegedly being abused by interrogators.

The raid appeared to be a violation of the country's sovereignty, leading to angry scenes between Iraqi police and US soldiers.

The military police, who had been told of abuse, seized an area known as the Guesthouse just outside the ministry's main building.

They disarmed the Iraqi police and at one stage threatened to set free prisoners whose handcuffs they removed, Iraqi officials said.

The arrival of a second group of US military police and a more senior officer led to an argument between the two US groups over who had authority for the raid.

Iraqi ministry of interior officials admitted that around 150 prisoners arrested four days earlier during a raid in Baghdad had been physically abused during their arrest and subsequent questioning.

The men were captured in the first big Iraqi-led anti-crime and anti-terrorism operation, which took place a few days before the transfer of power with US military police in support and using US satellite images.

Senior Iraqi officers described those captured as "first-class murderers, kidnappers and terrorists with links to al-Ansar" -- a militant group in the former Kurdish no-fly zone -- who had all admitted to "at least 20 crimes while being questioned."

According to an al-Jazeera tele-vision crew that had been filming the prisoners when the US military police conducted their raid, most of the detainees were blindfolded, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. One prisoner was so weak from dehydration that the US military police fitted an intravenous drip to rehydrate him.

Although none of the US officers involved in the raid would comment, one soldier involved in the raid said that it had been launched after claims that prisoners were being abused. US military spokesmen would not comment. "We can't confirm that this took place," a spokesman said.

One of the prisoners bared his back after his initial arrest to reveal open welts allegedly caused by batons and rubber hoses.

A bodyguard for the head of criminal intelligence, Hussein Kamal, admitted that the beatings had taken place.

Nashwan Ali -- who said his nickname was Big Man -- said: "A US MP asked me this morning ... why we had beaten the prisoners. I said we beat the prisoners because they are all bad people. But I told him we didn't strip them naked, photograph them or fuck them like you did."

Although the new government has warned that it may impose "drastic measures" including invoking emergency powers to combat lawlessness, advisers from the former coalition say they have trained Iraqi officers in human rights.

One Western police adviser said he had no idea that the ministry itself was being used for questioning suspects. "It sounds rather like the bad old days," he said.

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