Confessions beaten out of ‘suspects’, executions by the hundreds... How different is justice in today’s Iraq from the era of Saddam?

The presumption of guilt is just one of Saddam's creation that has outlived the dictator

Share

Saddam is Dead! Long live Saddam! And glancing through the grisly list of executions which the new, free, democratic, American-constructed Iraq has carried out – about 500 all told, and rising – Saddamism is flourishing in the land of the two rivers. Last year alone, 1,200 men and women were on death row, most of them sentenced after the usual pre-trial confessions under torture. In fact their court appearances were preceded, in many cases, by television interviews in which they admitted to their “crimes”. And sure enough, another 26 “terrorists” were executed in Baghdad last week as the country’s Shia Muslim prime minister tried to smother the Sunni revolt against him.

All too truly does the British lawyer Akhtar Raja speak when he tells journalists that “the tradition of relying on confessions in court is deeply rooted in the Iraqi psyche”. This is another of Saddam’s creations that has passed on seamlessly to his elected successors: the presumption of guilt. When a villainous rogue appeared on Iraqi television in the days of the Great Leader, did anyone dare to imagine that the man was innocent? So too today. “When you go to Iraq and talk to people there, even liberal, well-educated people who you’d think would say the opposite, they seem to think it’s perfectly all right to have these confessions,” Raja says. He is being too kind. Many Iraqis tell me that they insist on capital punishment, even if there is a chance the victim is innocent.

Akhtar Raja is currently acting on behalf of Abdullah al-Qahtani, a Saudi national banged up for an armed robbery on a goldsmith’s shop on 8 November 2009, in which a shop owner was killed. The court was told that the robbery was carried out to fund “terrorist” activities and al-Qahtani was sentenced to be hanged. He has also been sentenced to 15 years in jail for entering Iraq illegally “to carry out acts of terrorism”. And, just to beat that, al-Qahtani has also been charged for alleged involvement in the bombings of numerous Baghdad hotels on 25 January 2010. No trial date has been set for this latest accusation to be heard – if al-Qahtani is still alive to attend the court.

The only problem for the prosecution – which it doesn’t seem to care about – is that Mr Raja has established, with official Iraqi government documents to prove it, that from 4 October 2009 to 26 April 2010 al-Qahtani was in custody in al-Anbar province on other immigration charges – 60 miles from Baghdad. Thus the accused cannot be guilty of the crimes the government charges him with because, well, he was in the hands of the government at the time.

Abdullah Azam al-Qahtani was being held by the Iraqi government 60 miles from Baghdad at the time of the hotel bombings he is accused of Abdullah Azam al-Qahtani was being held by the Iraqi government 60 miles from Baghdad at the time of the hotel bombings he is accused of

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No matter. Mr Raja went to see al-Qahtani in prison a year ago and tells me that he spoke to the prisoner for 90 minutes and saw the marks of cigarette burns on his body. He had also, Mr Raja says, been hung up by his wrists and beaten and – according to al-Qahtani – assaulted with a broom and injured on his genitals. I am “softening” these details for the sake of his family. But that’s pretty much the same treatment that other prisoners get – you should see the marks on their faces when they appear on public television – and all the co-defendants in al-Qahtani’s case retracted their evidence on the grounds that confessions were extracted under torture.

Now for the grimmer bit. All but one of  al-Qahtani’s fellow defendants have already been hanged. Mr Raja fears that al-Qahtani is in imminent danger of execution. So does Amnesty International. He currently resides in Kadhimiya prison at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s pleasure: the jail where all condemned men are sent. Saddam was taken there to be dispatched. And don’t think that death necessarily comes quickly in Iraq to those who have (or have not) made their peace with God. A Western prison investigator has told me that in one case at Kadhimiya, a condemned Iraqi man was made to stand on a bench, had the noose placed around his neck and was pushed off. But he managed to jump on to the floor. “So they shortened the length of the rope and got him back on the bench and pushed him off again. It didn’t work… They dug up the tiles and the cement (beneath the bench). But that didn’t work. So they just took him to a corner of the cell and shot him in the head.”

In October last year, 42 men were put to death in a series of mass hangings, some of them executed on 10 October, World Day Against the Death Penalty. The following month, 11 Iraqi men were hanged on a single day for “terrorist attacks”. According to Mohamed al-Dainy, a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament whom government agents tried to kidnap at Baghdad airport in 2009 – he now lives in exile in Jordan – up to two million Iraqis now live in fear abroad. “What the Iraqis are facing today is unprecedented, dear Fisk,” he wrote to me, “and can’t even be compared with other eras.” Well, I can think of at least one man right now who deserves mercy.

More from Robert Fisk here: A tale from Ireland that will stir the blood

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
 

Costa Rica’s wildlife makes me mourn our paradise lost

Michael McCarthy
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence