ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
And we turn now to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a moment, we'll hear from the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
But first to Iraq. A leading human rights group is accusing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of running his own personal combat brigade, one that not only oversees a secret detention facility, but that tortures accused terrorists and other criminals. Maliki had promised to end such practices after similar findings last year.
NPR's Kelly McEvers has the story from Baghdad.
KELLY McEVERS: The latest report by New York-based Human Rights Watch says that a special unit of about 3,000 Iraqi soldiers, known as Brigade 56, or the Baghdad Brigade, is in charge of the secret facility.
Human Rights Watch researcher Samer Muscati says this brigade works in partnership with two other brigades. One of which was trained by U.S. Special Forces, and all of which report directly to the prime minister. Muscati says that means they aren't accountable to anyone else.
Mr. SAMER MUSCATI (Researcher, Human Rights Watch): When you have these institutions that are operating outside the rule of law, it creates a situation where there's no transparency, where forces are likely to engage in activity that is reprehensible, and there's no way to rein them in.
McEVERS: After reviewing government documents and conducting interviews with Iraqi officials, Human Rights Watch found that the Baghdad Brigade transferred these detainees to the newest secret facility in November, just as human rights inspectors were planning a visit.
Detainees at the original facility told the L.A. Times that conditions were appalling, that detainees were hung upside down, beaten and given electric shocks to their genitals.
Officials say these men are hardcore terrorism suspects. But Muscati says that shouldn't deprive them of all their rights.
Mr. MUSCATI: These are fathers, these are sons. These are people who are supposed to be innocent before a court of law.
McEVERS: In previous statements, Maliki's office has denied Human Rights Watch's findings, claiming their reports are the work of his political enemies.
Iraqi Parliament speaker, Osama al-Nujaifi, did vow to investigate the latest findings.
Professor OSAMA AL-NUJAIFI (Iraqi Parliament Speaker): (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: Nujaifi's press briefing was called to discuss the prime minister's recent efforts to exert control over the election process. But after we ask the question about the secret prison, two Iraqi journalists pull us aside and tell us their stories.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: One man says he was imprisoned for nine months at a secret facility, without any contact with lawyers or relatives. Another man tells us his nephew was detained for four years by the Baghdad Brigade. He says the nephew was released just yesterday, after the family paid thousands of dollars in bribes.
As he whispers, the man keeps looking over his shoulder. It's just like Saddam, he says, all over again.
Ms. UM JASSIM: (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: Um Jassim knows what it's like to lose all contact with a relative. Her son was detained back in 2007 by American soldiers, and she hasn't heard from him since. She believes he's since been transferred to Iraqi custody.
Ms. JASSIM: (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: Um Jassim can't even say her son's name without falling apart. Her relatives think she's crazy because she cries all the time.
Ms. JASSIM: (Foreign language spoken)
McEVERS: Um Jassim says it would be better to know something than continue living her life in limbo. Just tell me that he's dead, she says. If that's my destiny, then I will accept it.
Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.
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