Iraqi Agency Targets Police Torture
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
There are new reports that Iraqis have been tortured by the country's police. The Interior Ministry says nine Iraqis suffocated when they were locked in the back of a police van. They were put there by members of the ministry's elite commando unit called the Wolf Brigade. The men were held in the van for more than 14 hours, and there are reports that they were beaten. As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, allegations of police brutality, illegal arrests and torture have become common in Iraq.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
When Omar heard his front door kicked in during the night, he thought it was thieves, but instead it was men in uniform. He says Iraqi police commandos, under the Ministry of Interior, blindfolded him and handcuffed him. They took him to a base, and then the beatings began.
OMAR: (Through Translator) When we got out of the car, I felt that we were like war booty, how they gathered around us. I could hear their voices. They were loud.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: They then interrogated him.
OMAR: (Through Translator) Without saying anything, they put the wire on my toes and fingers. I wanted to know what was going on, so I said, `Sir, what do you want from me?' He told me that I attacked the police and the national guards. I told him, `Why would I attack the police and the national guards? I am a student.' But he turned the electricity on while I still hadn't finished my sentence. He electrocuted me until I crumbled to the ground and stopped breathing.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: As he tells the story, the young 22-year-old student's hands shake.
OMAR: (Through Translator): Of course I screamed. You scream spontaneously. You need to scream in that place. It's not about being tough or your manhood. It's about your life being taken from you without any reason.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: After 12 days Omar was released without charge. Senior Iraqi officials have confirmed to NPR that Omar's story is far from isolated. According to Iraq's Human Rights Ministry, cases of torture, including electrocution, burning detainees with hot irons and beating detainees to death, have been recorded. Saad Sultan is the Human Rights Ministry official in charge of monitoring Iraq's prisons.
Mr. SAAD SULTAN (Human Rights Ministry, Iraq): (Through Translator) Two months ago I could go into a prison and more than 50 percent of the people had been abused. Six months ago the level was very dangerous. When I entered the prison and asked who had been beaten, I'd seen a long line of people standing there; I didn't find a single detainee who hadn't been beaten.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Iraq's Human Rights Ministry has monitors who have the right to go into every prison and detention center in Iraq, but Sultan says that of his only 22 monitors, four have already quit their jobs in frustration.
Mr. SULTAN: (Through Translator) The way the security agency is, things need to change. They have to know what human rights mean. The sound of human rights in such conditions can barely be heard.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sultan says that the Ministry of Interior alone has held up to 7,000 detainees in illegal centers. A State Department report in February stated that Iraqi authorities have been accused of arbitrary deprivation of life, torture impunity, poor prison conditions particularly in pretrial detention facilities and arbitrary arrest and detention. And they are often interrogated by the Ministry of Interior's police commandos that include groups like the now-infamous Wolf Brigade.
A senior Iraqi official who requested anonymity told NPR that the police commandos were formed in a hurry to combat the raging insurgency last August. He said, quote, "They were taking on an awful lot of people in a great hurry. Many of them were people who served in Saddam's forces. There was no supervision. There still really isn't any."
General Ahmad Savat(ph) is the commander of the police commandos and a special adviser to the Interior minister. He was imprisoned and tortured under Saddam. He denies any allegation of misconduct. He admits, however, what he called minor incidents had taken place, such as the theft of property during house raids and attacks on women, including one incident of rape. He said those caught had been fired.
The US supplies weapons and training to the police commandos and the Iraqi army. Colonel Ed Cardon is the American commander of the 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. He says incidents have taken place.
Colonel ED CARDON (Commander, 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division): We've had three allegations. We report them. And now when we say an allegation, some are quite serious, you know. These are not happening in my area, but I'll give you an example. Like, if we catch someone kicking a detainee, we just knock it off right there. You can't do that. I actually fill out a report, and we send it up to the MOI.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very little, though, has been done by the MOI, or Ministry of Interior, or the Ministry of Justice up until now. The senior Iraqi official told NPR that it is in no way the policy of the Iraqi government to condone torture, but, he said, these are exceptional times. People are so anxious about expediting the elimination of the terrorists that the government is not so much turning a blind eye, but they are frustrated. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad.