The US should not transfer prisoners from US to Iraqi custody under the pending US-Iraqi security agreement if they face the risk of torture, a leading human rights group said on Wednesday.
The US military holds some 17,000 detainees, most of them Iraqis, and cites UN Security Council resolutions that expire at the end of the year as the basis for holding them, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
The proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which calls for US forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by next year and from the whole country by 2011, also provides for the transfer of detainees to Iraqi custody.
But after the US “made itself synonymous with abuse of detainees in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, the least it can do now is assure that a security agreement does not pave the way for further abuse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The rights group, which documented torture and ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi police and security forces, called on the the US government to ensure detainees are not in danger of further abuse.
The SOFA should establish “a mechanism that would provide each detainee with a genuine opportunity to contest a transfer to Iraqi custody, and by verifying the conditions of Iraqi detention facilities to which they could be transferred, through inspections whose results are made public,” the group said.
HRW also noted that the US ratified the Convention against Torture, which prohibits transfer of a person to another state when there are substantial grounds for believing they face the risk of torture. The laws of armed conflict also include such protection, HRW said.
The Iraqi Cabinet has made new demands over the SOFA draft and on Tuesday authorized Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to renegotiate it.
The White House has said that incorporating new modifications into the deal was unlikely and that failure to sign the much debated military deal threatens to derail security progress made so far in Iraq.
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