Is Iraq Better? The Human Rights Watch Report: Part 1

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Human Rights Watch released a report in January of 2005 titled: The New Iraq? Torture and ill-treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody. The research for the report was conducted in Iraq from July to October of 2004.


What is happening these days in Iraq is not the "better off without Saddam Iraq" that the Bush administration sold to the world in the lead-up to and invasion of Iraq. What is starting to surface from first hand accounts and reports like this one is a country of rampant illegal police arrests, extortion, illegal detention, torture and forced statements. The police and intelligence services routinely conduct arrests without warrants issued by the appropriate judicial authorities. The Iraq Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) states clearly in section 5, paragraph 123 that defendants are to be brought before an investigative judge within twenty-four hours of arrest. What the report found was continued instances of people being detained and tortured for weeks, if not months, before being brought before an investigative judge. Pre-trial detention conditions were described as poor, with people being crammed into small overcrowded cells, unable to lay-down with little or no food. Many of the detainees in the report complained of being beaten. Another common complaint by detainees was the practice of the police forcing detainees to sign statements without being informed of their content or having the opportunity to read the statement. More common complaints made by detainees were the police officials threatening them with indefinite detention if they failed to pay money for their release. Detainees also reported not being allowed access to lawyers or family members.

This report, which I will attempt to cover in future posts, consisted of interviews with ninety current and former detainees in Iraq, seventy-two of which alleged they had been tortured. The report focused on three "categories" of detainees. The first category consisted of twenty-one people arrested for their alleged affiliation with an armed group. The second category consisted of fifty-four suspects whose cases were referred to the Central Criminal Court of Iraq in Baghdad. This court, set up by the CPA in July 2003, hears serious criminal offenses. The third category of the report consists of fifteen detainees held in seven different police stations for various alleged crimes. In addition to the detainees, Human Rights Watch also conducted interviews with investigative judges assigned to the Central Criminal Court, as well as U.S. troops and other Iraqi government officials and doctors at Baghdad's Medico-Legal Institute. The Institute examined thirty-seven cases referred to them by the courts, and found external injuries consistent with torture or abuse in twenty of them. As one detainee told Human Rights Watch:

"This is much worse than in Saddam's days. Then, it was only the security forces doing it, but now it is also the police."

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