Iraq: UK man among thousands held without trial after US handovers - new report

Tens of thousands of detainees held without trial in Iraq, many of whom were recently transferred from US custody, remain at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, Amnesty International says in a new report published today.

The 57-page report, New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq , describes how thousands of people in the country have been subjected to arbitrary detention - often in secret prisons - sometimes for several years without charge or trial, while many have also suffered severe beatings to obtain forced confessions.

Amnesty estimates that 30,000 detainees are currently held without trial in Iraq although the Iraqi authorities have failed to provide precise figures. Ten thousand of these were recently transferred from US custody when the USA’s combat operations in Iraq ended, though no guarantees against torture or ill-treatment were included in the handovers.

Thousands of people continue to be detained despite judicial orders issued for their release, and a 2008 Iraqi Amnesty Law which provides for the release of uncharged detainees after between six and 12 months.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Malcolm Smart said:

“Iraq’s security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees’ rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity.

“Yet, the US authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by US forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights.”

One case highlighted by the report is that of Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 68-year-old dual Iraqi-UK national who has lived in the UK since 2002. Mr Shihab Ahmed, who had travelled to Iraq to try to secure the release of his detained son ‘Omar, was arrested in a relative’s house in Iraq on 7 December 2009. His whereabouts were completely unknown to his family until late March when he was able to make a short call to his wife in London imploring her to seek help from the UK authorities.

Mr Shihab Ahmed, who has told his wife that he has suffered torture - including with electric shocks to his genitals and suffocation by plastic bags - was first held in a secret prison at the old Muthanna airport in Baghdad, before being relocated to Baghdad’s al-Rusafa Prison where he is still held without charge or trial. He has been interrogated about alleged links to al-Qa’ida and reportedly forced to make a false confession following torture.

Mr Shihab Ahmed’s wife, Rabiha al-Qassab, a 63-year-old former teaching assistant, is pressing the UK government to step up its efforts to help her husband. She said:

“What my husband has suffered at the hands of his interrogators is inhumane and sickening. I’m desperately worried about him. He already had health problems before all this and was very brave to return to Iraq on behalf of his son ‘Omar in the first place.

“I’d like to see the UK government stepping up efforts to get Ramze released or at least given a fair trial if there’s anything that could reasonably be held against him. The Iraqi authorities should either try or release him - not go through this disgusting charade of torture and false confessions.

“I know that Ramze is far from being the only person unfairly imprisoned in Iraq, but because he’s British at least the UK can try to do something about them.

Amnesty supporters are appealing to the Foreign Secretary William Hague asking him to increase pressure upon the Iraqi authorities to intervene in Mr Shihab Ahmed’s case. Take action now br />
Amnesty’s report makes clear that several detainees have died in custody, apparently as a result of torture or other ill-treatment by Iraqi interrogators and prison guards. For example, Riyadh Mohammad Saleh al-‘Uqaibi, 54 and married with Children's rights, died in custody on 12 or 13 February as a result of internal bleeding having been beaten so hard during interrogation that his ribs were broken and liver damaged. He was arrested in September 2009 and held in a detention facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone before, like Ramze Shehab Ahmed, being held at the Muthanna airport. His body was handed over to his family several weeks later, the death certificate stating he’d died of “heart failure”.

Malcolm Smart added:

“The Iraqi authorities have signally failed to take effective action to stop torture and punish the perpetrators, despite overwhelming evidence of its use.

“They have a duty to investigate, to hold perpetrators accountable and bring them to justice, and to provide reparation to the victims. The Iraqi authorities’ failure to take such concrete steps sends a message that such violations are tolerated and can be repeated.”
The Iraqi authorities often refuse to even confirm detentions or the whereabouts of those held. More than 400 detainees were held in the secret prison at the old Muthanna airport, whose existence was revealed publicly in April. Several Muthanna detainees told Amnesty they were detained on the basis of false information obtained from secret informants. They were held without access to the outside world and some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation, apparently to make them confess to involvement in bombings or other crimes.

Torture is widely used in Iraq to obtain “confessions”, says Amnesty’s report.  In many cases these are already prepared by interrogators, and detainees are forced to sign while blindfolded. Prepared confessions are often used as the only evidence against detainees when they are brought to trial, including in cases where the charges incur the death penalty. Hundreds of prisoners are reported to have been sentenced to death, and some have been executed, after being convicted on the basis of “confessions” which they said were false and had been signed under torture or other duress.

Methods of torture catalogued by Amnesty’s report include beating with cables and hosepipes, prolonged suspension by the limbs, the application of electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, breaking of limbs, removal of finger and toenails, asphyxiation and piercing of the body with drills, and psychological torture such as threats of rape.

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