Business as Usual

The abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners in US custody in Iraq has made headlines around the world this week, with condemnation coming from many heads of state and governments who are appalled by the shocking images they have seen. Yet Iraq's own Governing Council, says this article in Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly, has been virtually silent on the entire issue. Reports of mistreatment have been circulating for months within Iraq, the author says, but the IGC has not publicly voiced concern over the probem, even in the face of undeniable evidence. None of the IGC members has made a clear statement on the issue, indicating to the author that "for them it is business as usual." With the transfer of sovereignty from the US-led coalition to an Iraqi interim government still scheduled for June 30, one wonders to whom average Iraqis can look for guarantees of security and basic human rights. – YaleGlobal

Business as Usual

Iraqis have been talking about torture in prisons long before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke last week; but why has the IGC failed to take a strong position?
Nermeen Al-Mufti
Friday, May 7, 2004

Two months ago a statement distributed in Baghdad and Falluja and signed the "Abu Ghraib Mujahidin" claimed that "many Iraqi female inmates were humiliated and raped" inside the Abu Ghraib prison. Abu Ghraib is a town 12km west of Baghdad where the notorious prison is located.

The mujahidin in question pledged to "bomb the jail to save 'our sisters'". The statement sent shock waves throughout Iraq, prompting imams of several mosques across the country to call for the release of all female prisoners.

Female detainees are routinely charged with being part of the 'insurgency', but are mostly held because of their familial ties with wanted Iraqis. During the past few months, Iraq has been rife with rumours about the situation of Iraqi detainees, especially in the Abu Ghraib prison.

Brigadier General Janice Karpinski, who is in charge of four military prisons in Iraq, said that living conditions in Iraqi prisons run by the Americans were better than living conditions in many Iraqi homes. Mohamed Janabi, who was detained last summer in Abu Ghraib, denies this. "When I was there, there was no water to drink, and the heat was unbearable. When we decided to protest, they fired at us. One inmate was killed and several more were badly injured," he said.

A former general manager who was detained for eight days last January, a bitterly cold month in Iraq, said they stripped him and poured cold water on him while he was standing in front of the air conditioning unit.

If this is the treatment meted out to people held for brief periods, ask the Iraqis, then what kind of treatment are the 'most wanted Iraqis' receiving at Baghdad airport? No information is available, apart from statements made by family members visiting relatives there. According to them, detainees are held in wooden cages with strong lights on all the time, day and night. They also say prisoners have no access to the outside world -- no newspapers, no radios. When visited, those 'most wanted' detainees were unable to relay any information to their relatives because of the American 'observers' present during the visit.

According to Sabah Al-Mukhtar, of the Arab Lawyers Society in Britain, "The occupation authorities are violating the Geneva conventions, UN charter, Human Rights charter and many other international conventions. From the available photos and what is reported it is clear that there is torture, and this torture is a crime, in violation of all laws, including the Iraqi penal law."

Al-Mukhtar added that, "The US is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC) agreement and the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), Paul Bremer, has tailored laws prohibiting the Iraqi courts from suing the Americans for even minor crimes."

But what happened, and is still happening, he continued, is a crime by every standard including that of the American Constitution. "The families of the tortured prisoners have the right to sue the Americans both inside and outside Iraq. Those are crimes against humanity that must be brought before the ICC," he finished.

A young resistance fighter who was detained for a few months said that it was not only the Americans and British who were torturing prisoners. "Contractors belonging to private security companies have managed to recruit more than 10,000 mercenaries from all over the world. Those mercenaries are brutal beyond any imagination," he said.

And a journalist whose house was the target of a night raid said, "The Americans are violating all international laws and the fourth Geneva convention, not only in prisons but everywhere." He remembers his experience when his house was raided: "Family members, including the head of the household, had their heads covered with sand bags and were ordered to leave the house at gun point. My wife was in her nightclothes; they did not allow her to change. They turned the house upside down, while the whole family was held outside in the street for three long hours."

Following the statements by US President Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Blair, in the wake of the scandal, that the torturing of Iraqi prisoners was a crime many Iraqis are still anxiously awaiting the response of the Iraqi Interim Council (IGC). So far nothing has come from that direction.

The only subject broached by Barazani, the president of IGC for this month, during his latest press conference was the colours of the new Iraqi flag. The flag which Barazani showed to reporters did not match the colours of earlier copies of the design released last week. Barazani's flag had two navy-blue lines -- supposedly representing the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- while the design of the flag released earlier showed two light-blue lines, something that annoyed the majority of Iraqis as they felt their new flag looked very similar to that of Israel.

The discrepancy in the colours of the different versions of the flag is but a reminder of the state of chaos prevailing in Iraq, not least among the members of the IGC. That none of them has until now made a clear statement regarding the horrific crimes committed in the Abu Ghraib prison is an indication that for them it is business as usual.

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. Reprinted from Al-Ahram Weekly, 6 -12 May 2004 (Issue No. 689).