Iraq: Conditions in US prisons may break international law

In a letter to Paul Bremer, the organisation also calls on the US to ensure that detainees are treated humanely and that excessive use of force is investigated, after one detainee was shot dead and seven injured during a demonstration at Abu Ghraib prison. Amnesty also raised concerns about allegations of theft during house searches.

Lesley Warner, Amnesty International UK Media Director, said:

'The conditions of detention Iraqis are held under at the Camp Cropper Centre at Baghdad International Airport - now a US base - and at Abu Ghraib Prison may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, banned by international law.'

Detainees held in Baghdad have invariably reported that they suffered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment immediately after arrest. They report being tightly bound with plastic handcuffs and sometimes denied water and access to a toilet in the first night of arrest. Amnesty delegates saw numerous ex-detainees with wrists still scarred by the cuffs a month later.

'Uday and Rafed 'Adel, 31-year-old twins, were arrested on 16 May by US forces who were chasing looters. Both denied involvement to US forces but were handcuffed tightly and taken to various transfer centres, and then to Camp Cropper.

'They did not interrogate us and they treated us like animals. In the first week we were not allowed to wash and didn't have sufficient water,' Rafed said.

After 20 days of detention the two brothers were told they would be released but instead were taken to Abu Ghraib prison. On Thursday 12 June all detainees demonstrated against their detention conditions. The Captain promised to inform them individually about their detention period the next day. When only six were released and the others not informed of a release date, another demonstration took place. The guards opened fire above their heads. One detainee, Ala' Jassem Sa'ad, was shot dead in his tent. Seven detainees were wounded, including others in the tent.

Lesley Warner said:

'The USA must uphold international humanitarian law in dealing with issues of law and order in Iraq. It must abide by these standards in the arrest, detention and interrogation of detainees. Firearms should only be used if lives are in imminent danger.'

Amnesty International delegates however welcomed statements by lawyers from the US military and the Office of the Coalition Provisional Authority (OCPA) that they intended rapidly to improve conditions and would eventually ensure that every detainee had access to lawyers within 72 hours.

US military lawyers who met Amnesty International delegates last week acknowledged that the failure to give information about the detainees' whereabouts was regrettable but claimed that it had been impossible until recently to set up logistics to do this.

Amnesty International is also concerned about a number of allegations of stealing of money from houses that were being searched by UK or US soldiers. Four brothers, As'ad, 'Ali, 'Uday and Lu'ay Ibrahim Mahdi 'Abeidi, were arrested from their house on 29 April 2002 after a shooting in a street in Baghdad. They were hooded and tightly handcuffed.

'We spent our first night in custody lying on the ground in a school. We had no access to a toilet and were given no food or water,' one of the brothers said. The next day they were taken to Camp Cropper where they were held in the open in the burning heat of the sun until tents were brought on the third day. There was not enough water for washing. All had been released by 11 May.

The brothers said that some $20,000 in their savings and other goods was taken from the house. The Iraqi interpreter involved in the search operation said he handed over the family money to the US second lieutenant. But the money has not been returned.

Lesley Warner said: 'The present authorities must ensure transparency and accountability for all human rights violations in Iraq, not only of the past but also of the present.'

Background

Detainees held in the Airport and at Abu Ghraib have no access to the outside world except the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Family members are not allowed to visit them. In dozens of interviews, families of detainees complained that US forces had been unable to provide any information when they sought to discover where their relatives had been detained.

Widespread looting and insecurity in Baghdad have prevailed since the beginning of US occupation of the city on 10 April. Amnesty International has documented many cases of revenge killings in Iraq, as well as armed robberies, encouraged by the proliferation of weapons.

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