Iraqi men held for months at a secret prison outside Baghdad were systematically tortured and forced to sign confession statements that in at least some cases they were forbidden to read, according to a new report by a human rights group released Wednesday.
Some of the detainees, mostly Sunnis from the northern city of Mosul, were beaten by Iraqi guards so badly they lost teeth and urinated blood for days afterward, said the report by New York-based Human Rights Watch. Others were raped, given electric shocks applied to their penises and deprived of air, the report also said.
The Iraqi government quickly shut down the prison after the abuse was revealed last week, and either released or transferred its 431 detainees to another facility. The government also vowed to investigate the abuses, and so far, three army officers have been arrested in connection with the case.
The reports of horrific beatings and abuse at the Defense Ministry-run secret facility at the old Muthanna airport in west Baghdad has angered the country's Sunni population who sees it as another example of persecution at the hands of Iraq's Shiite-led government.
A request for international involvement
Dalshad Zebari, a Sunni-Kurdish lawmaker from Nineveh province, where most of the detainees were from, said a government investigation was not enough and there should be international involvement.
"We will ask the U.N. and the International Red Cross for an urgent investigation of these human rights violations and to force the Iraqi government to make public the names of those involved in these cruel crimes and ensure they face justice."
The case also shocked many Iraqi and U.S. officials, harkening back to images of the abuses of Iraqis by U.S. guards at the Abu Ghraib prison that inflamed insurgents and tarnished America's image worldwide.
No Americans were involved in the secret prison, part of a row of barracks on an Iraqi army base at the Al-Muthanna airport. Officials said the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad first learned of it within the last month and leaned on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to shut it down.
"What happened at Muthanna is an example of the horrendous abuse Iraqi leaders say they want to leave behind," Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at the Human Rights Watch, said in a statement released late Tuesday. "Everyone responsible, from the top on down, needs to be held accountable."
Calls for comment to two Iraqi government spokesmen were not immediately returned Wednesday.
The prisoner were arrested last fall and accused of aiding and abetting terrorism.
Accounts are ‘credible and consistent’
Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 of the detainees after they were transferred to the Al-Rusafa Detention Center in eastern Baghdad. The group said many of them bore fresh scars and injuries, and called their accounts of being tortured "credible and consistent."
Among the stories related by HRW was one of a detainee interrogated while hanging upside down and being beaten. He was then smothered until he passed out, only to be awakened by an electric shock to his genitals.
A 24-year-old detainee with severe leg injuries lost several front teeth in beatings and still wets his bed after being sodomized with a broomstick and a pistol, the report said.
It also described a wheelchair-bound former general in the Iraqi army holding British citizenship, who said he was beaten, sodomized, given electric shocks through his penis and forced to sign a confession he never read.
The detainees' relatives alerted Iraq's Human Rights Ministry to the abuses. Deputy Human Rights Minister Kamil Amin last week said prisoners had access to judges and their families, although it was unclear how much oversight there was of the facility.
About 100 of the prisoners have already been released and the rest were transferred to the Rusafa facility.
The abuses were first reported last week by The Los Angeles Times. They also raise chilling comparisons with the revelation in 2005 of a secret prison run by the Shiite-dominated security forces in Baghdad where Sunnis were tortured.
In the ensuing years of sectarian battles in the capital, Sunnis repeatedly accused security forces of actively aiding, or at least turning a blind eye to Shiite death squads.