Elite Iraqi troops controlled by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office are holding prisoners at a secret jail and torturing inmates at another facility, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
The Shiite-dominated security forces have faced similar allegations in the past, but the report details a pattern of abuse as recently as December despite promises of reform.
The findings raise fresh concern about the government’s treatment of detainees just six months after the US military handed over full responsibility for the prison system to the Iraqis.
Citing interviews and classified government documents, the New York-based rights group said the secret jails were under the control of the Iraqi army’s 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade, and the Counterterrorism Service — both under the authority of the prime minister’s office.
“Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government’s promises to respect the rule of law,” the group’s deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said. “The government needs to close these places or move them under control of the justice system, improve conditions for detainees, and make sure that anyone responsible for torture is punished.”
The group also called on the Iraqis to open the facilities for inspections and visits. It said it had obtained 18 documents, including a Dec. 6 letter from the prosecutor’s office of the high court asking the prime minister’s office to instruct officials at one of the sites to stop preventing visits from prison inspectors and relatives.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh could not immediately be reached for comment. However, senior Justice Ministry official Busho Ibrahim denied the report.
“These prisons are under the control of the Justice Ministry,” he said in a telephone interview. “It is impossible that there is torture in our prisons.”
Human Rights Watch quoted prisoners at a detention center called Camp Honor who described the use of torture during interrogations and cells “so crowded that we had to take turns standing and lying down.”
One detainee said on Dec. 27 that his hands were tied over his head and his feet put in water.
“Then they shocked me in my head and my neck and my chest. The interrogators beat me repeatedly and told me that they would go to my house and rape my sister if I did not sign a confession, so I did. I did not even know what I was confessing to,” he was quoted as saying.
Others said they were hung upside down for hours at a time and plastic bags were tied over their heads until they passed out.
Human Rights Watch said a group of detainees was transferred in late November from Camp Honor to a secret site within the military base called Camp Justice just days before an international inspection team was to examine conditions at the detainees’ previous location.