Iraq to investigate torture

More than 150 malnourished, injured prisoners found in secret Interior Ministry jail

November 16, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraqi government launched an investigation yesterday into the apparent torture of detainees in a secret Interior Ministry jail after the U.S. military found more than 170 prisoners inside who appeared to have been abused, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said.

The homegrown prison scandal broke as Iraqi and American forces clashed with insurgents in the border town of Ubaydi along the Euphrates River.

Three Marines were killed over the past two days in Operation Steel Curtain, which has killed 80 suspected insurgents in the same period.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday by roadside explosions in Baghdad.

American soldiers who were searching for a 15-year-old boy in the jail discovered the apparently abused detainees instead. The underfed men had bruises and scratches all over their bodies, said Kurdish Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy minister of the interior.

The military had gotten a complaint from the 15-year-old's parents and had cleared the search with the ministry, according to Kamal.

The jail is in the mostly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Jadriyah, in south-central Baghdad.

"I saw it myself," Kamal told Knight Ridder. "Signs of obvious torture."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and American Gen. George Casey talked to top Iraqi leaders about the apparent torture, according to a statement from the U.S. Embassy.

"We agree with Iraq's leaders that the mistreatment of detainees is a serious matter and totally unacceptable," the statement said.

Al-Jaafari said he requested that the detainees be moved immediately and receive medical care. He formed a committee to investigate the apparent abuse after he "received information relating to the presence of 173 Iraqi detainees at a center run by the Interior Ministry, some of whom said they were badly fed or had been tortured," he said.

The men had been detained with arrest warrants, Kamal said, and the alleged abuse probably came from the investigators who were interrogating them.

He put the number of men at 161. It was unclear why the figures differed.

"We don't allow torture. It's against the law, and we're going to look into this issue seriously and take the necessary precautions and procedures for not repeating this issue in this jail or other prisons," Kamal said.

Sunni Muslim men fill most Iraqi jails as the Sunni-backed insurgency rages against the Shiite-led government.

Family accounts of beatings and cruel murders of Sunni men who had been in Iraqi jails were documented in Knight Ridder investigations earlier this year.

The U.S. military, the FBI, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Embassy will aid the Iraqi government in its investigations, the statement from the U.S. Embassy in Iraq said.

"The multinational forces are here and are assisting the Iraqis," Kamal said. "If they see anything that's against the law, they will follow the same procedures."

In Operation Steel Curtain, 150 suspected insurgents had been arrested by nightfall in Ubaydi near the Syrian border, where U.S. and Iraqi forces were involved in their most intense battle since the operation started Nov. 5.

More than 100 mines and homemade bombs were found, and five car bombs were destroyed.

The 3,500 American and Iraqi forces are working to weed out foreign fighters who are filtering through the Syrian border and to restore Iraqi control over the porous Iraqi-Syrian border.

Operation Steel Curtain is part of Operation Hunter, which is designed to establish a permanent Iraqi army presence in the al-Qaim region and to stop the al-Qaida in Iraq network from operating in the Euphrates River Valley and Anbar province.

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