New Leaders, Similar Story at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib

Fresh allegations of brutality are being reported from inside the walls of Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, which was transferred from U.S. military to Iraqi government control on September 1st.

Sa’dik al-Hasnawi, who heads up Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s offices in the southern city of Diwaniya, told OneWorld, "it seems torture is not just a random thing. It’s a policy and everyone is required to follow it."

Hasnawi has been interviewing inmates as they’re released from Abu Ghraib.

"I have seen cases with drilling and electric shocks and one of the prisoners’ knee caps were removed in a surgical process that was a form of torture," he said. "Abu Ghraib prison has been turned over to the Ministry of Justice so the torturing isn’t just in the American prisons. It’s in the Iraqi police prisons as well."

Photos of severe torture by U.S. servicemen at the prison, formerly Saddam Hussein’s most notorious lock-up, sparked international outrage when they were leaked to the press in 2004.

Hasnawi isn’t the only one making such allegations.

Last week, Iraqi authorities carried out the mass execution of 27 suspected criminals and terrorists inside the walls at Abu Ghraib. This week, the London Daily Telegraph reported conditions inside the prison were "grim, with an overwhelming stench of excrement, prisoners crammed into cells for all but 20 minutes a day, food rations cut to just rice and water, and no air conditioning."

Prisoners interviewed by the Telegraph in the presence of their jailers said they were frightened for their safety. Iraqi guards apologized for the lack of food for prisoners but said there was nothing they could do.

Conditions inside Iraqi government-run prisons have been the subject of intense scrutiny since 173 malnourished and abused prisoners were found in an Interior Ministry prison in Baghdad last November.

Even before that, however, New York-based Human Rights Watch found that Iraqi intelligence forces committed "systematic torture and other abuses against people in detention."

That included the systematic use of arbitrary arrest, prolonged pre-trial detention without judicial review, torture and ill-treatment of detainees, denial of access by families and lawyers to detainees, improper treatment of detained children, and abysmal conditions in pre-trial detention facilities.

The group also said trials in Iraq were marred by inadequate legal representation and the acceptance of coerced confessions as evidence. People tortured or mistreated have inadequate access to health care and no realistic avenue for legal redress.

With rare exception, the rights group said, Iraqi authorities failed to investigate and punish officials responsible for violations. International police advisers, primarily U.S. citizens funded through the United States government, turned a blind eye to these rampant abuses, the rights group said.

Since then, the security situation inside Iraq has deteriorated further and most international organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have pulled out of the country.

"We aren’t able to follow developments in Iraq anymore," conceded the group’s Middle East director Joe Stork from his office in Washington, DC. "I don’t know any group that’s able to operate the way they used to."

Iraqi groups are continuing to follow the conditions of the prisons, however.

Last month, the Iraqi Human Rights Organization in Diwaniya released a report on conditions for the detainees in that southern city.

"Many skin diseases have been found in the jail," their report read. "The jail was very smelly and there was no medical treatment. Some of the prisoners talk about psychical torture during the interrogation and others say they didn’t receive any torture."

Local prisons have no beds, no air current, and no rooms for showering, the group said.

"Some prisoners don’t know what crime they are accused of committing, and they have been held for more than four months. Some of the prisoners were allowed to call lawyers, but they can’t afford to hire a lawyer in any case."