Torture of detainees by state security is pervasive in Iraq ten years after the fall of Saddam Hussein says an Amnesty International report, Iraq: a Decade of Abuses, published tomorrow. Though American and British leaders cited the brutality and cruelty of Saddam Hussein’s regime as a justification for overthrowing his regime, extreme abuse of prisoners has never ceased.
Forced confessions are at the heart of the present legal system with prisoners being given life and death sentences on the basis of false statements extracted by torture. In one case last year, cited by Amnesty, four men were arrested in Ramadi, held incommunicado and tortured by various means, including being hung up by the wrists and beatings, until they confessed. Before their trial a local television station “broadcast film of them providing self-incriminating evidence of having committed capital crimes.” All four were sentenced to death under the anti-terrorism law ignoring, according to one of the four men, even a request by the prosecution to release him.
The report says that “thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or are serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials, torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity, and the new Iraq is one of the world’s leading executioners.” The government hanged 129 prisoner last years and holds 37,000 prisononers, of whom 21,000 have been sentenced. In pre-trial confessions on TV different people unconnected with each other have confessed to the same crime.
Use of torture has been a feature of all the post-Saddam governments. They have used secret prisons - including at least one in the Green Zone controlled by the government’s elite Baghdad Brigade -- where detainees can be held for years without charge. Even when found innocent, detainees may not be released for months.
The failure of the Iraqi government to end torture and its reliance on forced confessions has done much to erode its legitimacy, particularly in the eyes of the Sunni community. The release of prisoners is a central demand of protesters in Sunni areas that have been going on since last December. A further complaint is that secret informants, frequently motivated by personal grudges, provide the only evidence against a person arrested.
Forced confessions are used as a political weapon. The report says that “in December 2011, Iraqi TV stations broadcast testimonies of at least three detained former bodyguards of the office of Vice President Tareq al-Hasemi in which they accuse him of ordering them to murder government and security officials.” One other bodyguard is alleged to have died under torture while Mr Hashemi has fled the country.