Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Iraq / United States

Secret Jail in Baghdad Held Sunnis from the North
By Steven Lee Myers
The New York Times, April 21, 2010
"An Iraqi security force under Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's direct command held hundreds of detainees from northern Iraq in an undisclosed prison in Baghdad, torturing dozens of them, until the country's human rights minister and the United States intervened late last month, Iraqi and American officials said. Mr. Maliki ordered the prison closed and said he had been unaware it existed, according to the officials. His move brought the release of 71 detainees and the transfer of others to established prisons, but more than 200 remain in the place, on the grounds of the Old Muthanna military airfield, in northern Baghdad. All of the detainees were apparently Sunni Muslims. American diplomats visited the prison on Wednesday, the officials said, and pressed Mr. Maliki's government to investigate the circumstances of its creation and the treatment of detainees there, originally 431 in all. In an interview, the minister of human rights, Wijdan Salim, praised Mr. Maliki for moving to close the prison and to order an investigation of what happened inside. ... But the existence of the prison, first reported in The Los Angeles Times on Monday and widely repeated in the Iraqi media, enraged Sunni political leaders, who accused Mr. Maliki's government of trampling the rule of law.
The disclosure bore striking similarities to the discovery of a secret underground prison in 2005 that had been operated by the police in Baghdad at the height of Iraq's sectarian conflict. Osama al-Najafi, a Sunni member of Parliament who is a leader of the electoral coalition that narrowly defeated Mr. Maliki’s bloc in last month’s election, said the existence of the prison was an example of 'the dictatorship that has prevailed.' 'This secret prison has a sectarian character, and it shows that the security forces and the army have an iron fist outside of the framework of the Constitution,' he said. ... Torture and other abuses of prisoners are pervasive in Iraq. The Ministry of Human Rights recorded 505 cases in 2009. The State Department's annual human rights report, released last month, harshly criticized Iraq, particularly for the maltreatment of detainees before and after their arrests. 'Allegations of abuse included beatings, sexual assault and death threats,' it said. The senior American military spokesman in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, said that American officials had raised concerns about the prison with the Iraqi government. [...]"

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