Row Growing Over Future Of 17,000-Plus Detainees

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A proposed US-Iraq security pact states that anyone detained by the Americans must be handed over to the Iraqis within 24 hours, says UN agency IRIN.

However, local and international NGOs have expressed concern over a clause in the proposed US-Iraq security agreement that would allow the transfer of all detainees in US military custody to Iraqi authorities.

Their main objection is that conditions in jails run by America’s Iraqi puppets are even worse than those run by the US occupiers.

‘It is obvious that the situation of detainees in US military-run prisons is better than those in prisons run by Iraqi security forces as US forces are known for their professionalism in running prisons, despite some human rights violations,’ Iraqi activist Basil al-Azawi claimed.

‘We find a lot of mistakes and mistreatment in the Iraqi-run prisons, as a remarkable number of their facilities are not fit for those detainees and those who are in charge do not have enough knowledge of human rights so ill-treatment can occur,’ he added.

Al-Azawi, who heads the Baghdad-based Commission for Civil Society Enterprises (an umbrella group of over 1,000 NGOs), supports the idea that the Iraqi government should run all detention facilities in the country, but said security forces must undergo special training for that.

‘It is a must that Iraq gains all its sovereignty and prisons must be under its full management but there must be comprehensive programmes by human rights organisations for Iraqi security forces on how to deal with prisoners,’ al-Azawi said.

‘There must be unlimited cooperation between the government and NGOs to have full access to prisons as it is still very hard for NGOs to visit them.

‘Involving all NGOs concerned would give a significant role to society to monitor violations and put an end to them,’ he said.

Since May, Iraq and the US have been negotiating a security pact that would allow US forces to stay in Iraq until 2011.

The proposed agreement is designed to replace the UN mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which expires on 31 December.

One of the many clauses of the agreement states that anyone detained by the Americans must be handed over to the Iraqis within 24 hours, and that all detainees currently held by the US must be released or transferred to Iraqi control.

Since hearing about this clause in the local media, the family of Hassan Gaitan Kadhim has been worried.

Kadhim is a 38-year-old father-of-two being held at Bucca detention centre, one of the main US prisons in Basra Province, about 600km south of the capital, Baghdad.

He was arrested in March 2007 during a raid in Binok, a neighbourhood in east Baghdad, on suspicion of being a member of an anti-US Shia militia group.

‘We heard of this (new clause) in the news and frankly speaking we believe that it will be better for them (prisoners) to stay in US custody,’ said Kadhim’s brother Salman.

On 29 October, Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based human rights watchdog, called on the US government to ensure that detainees under its control in Iraq would be given the right to contest any transfer and that the conditions of Iraqi detention facilities would be verified before any transferral.

‘Since the United States made itself synonymous with abuse of detainees in Iraq during the Abu Ghraib scandal, the least it can do now is assure that a security agreement does not pave the way for further abuse,’ Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said in a statement.

The statement said there were about 17,000 detainees in US military-run prisons in Iraq, most of them Iraqis but also including other Arabs or foreigners who took part in the insurgency after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The draft security agreement is awaiting approval by Iraq’s cabinet and parliament.

l Iraq’s parliamentary committee for women’s and children’s affairs has demanded the immediate release of female detainees in Iraqi and US-run prisons.

‘We call upon the Iraqi government and US-led forces to release immediately all female prisoners who have not been convicted,’ member of parliament Nadira Habib, deputy head of the parliamentary committee, told IRIN in a recent interview. |

‘The Iraqi government should expedite reviewing the files of these detainees by forming committees of lawyers, judges and prosecutors, as the majority of them (female detainees) are innocent,’ Nadira said.

According to her, there are 199 female detainees in the Iraqi-run al-Adala prison in Baghdad’s northern Kadhimiyah area, while it is not clear how many women are held in US-run prisons.

‘No one knows how many female detainees are now in prisons which are run by US forces as they always refuse requests from our committee to visit them,’ Nadira said.

She said the latest request her committee had made to the US forces was in July when it asked for permission to visit prisons at Baghdad airport and Bucca in Basra, but that request too had been rejected.

Although it is still not clear exactly how many female Iraqi prisoners the US is holding, ‘estimates we get from lawyers who interview these female detainees indicate that there are about 50 of them currently in US-run prisons’ Nadira said.

However, she added that violations against these detainees, including torture and maltreatment, had generally stopped since access to Iraqi-run prisons was granted at the end of 2006.

‘Some of the detainees were being held for criminal activities and others for having links with militants.’

Nadira also alleged that nearly four months ago, an Iraqi army force raided a house in western Baghdad looking for a suspected insurgent accused of launching attacks against Iraqi security forces but they seized his sister instead.

‘They didn’t believe us when we told them that he had no links with any militant groups and he was only abroad for business; they told us that he would surrender himself when they jailed me,’ said his 44-year-old sister who wants only her initials HA to be used as she fears reprisals.

‘Thank God they didn’t sexually abuse me, but they beat me during my nearly one month in prison and I was subjected to loud music, and the lights were never turned off in my cell.

‘This was done to force me not to sleep and then they let me talk to my family when I was crying,’ she said.

‘When my brother returned they interrogated him for about two weeks and then we were told “sorry we had the wrong intelligence”.’

The UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) has regularly reported alleged beatings, rape or sexual abuse against women in prisons.

In its report on human rights in Iraq covering April-June 2007, UNAMI said it had interviewed several women and young girls in the women’s juvenile facility and at al-Adala prison.

All the interviewees said they had been beaten, raped or otherwise sexually abused while in police custody prior to being transferred to prison.

UNAMI also interviewed several of the women on death row and they all complained of the poor quality of pre-trial and trial proceedings before Iraq’s criminal courts.