Iraq's Apt Pupils

The publication yesterday by Wikileaks of almost 400,000 classified documents relating to US operations in Iraq has reinforced the claims made in Amnesty’s recent report “New Order Same Abuses: Unlawful detentions and Torture in Iraq”.

The report, published last month, exposed the systemic mistreatment of detainees – often political rivals of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s United Iraqi Alliance coalition – in Iraqi prisons. It also charged that in its unseemly rush for the exit the United States had turned a blind eye to these abuses. The usual denials followed.

The Wikileaks documents contain hundreds of reports of detainee abuse by Iraqi security forces including beatings, electrocutions, burning, forced amputations, taking electric drills to limbs, pouring acid on flesh and, in at least six cases, murder.

One US order dated May 16, 2005, appears to confirm that US soldiers were instructed not to investigate allegations of abuse unless US personnel were involved or they were otherwise directed to do so by senior officers. Don’t rock the boat seems to have been the prime directive.

The documents also contain evidence that some American soldiers actively used the threat of handing an individual over to the Iraqi security forces as a lever to force suspects to cooperate. In fairness, it should be noted that other documents reveal that some US soldiers intervened to prevent abuse.

Now US combat troops have left Iraq we can begin to examine the legacy that our intervention has left behind and the picture is not pretty. Billions of dollars spent on democracy building and we taught our most durable lesson at Abu Ghraib. Iraq’s new masters learned it well – the end justifies the means.

The result is plain to see, with enforced disappearances, indefinite detention and torture all too commonplace in territory controlled by all three major sectarian factions. In Iraq, it seems, the national security apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

US Must Investigate Detainee Abuse Claims in Wikileaks Files

The US government must investigate how much US officials knew about the torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held by Iraqi security forces after new evidence emerged in files released today by Wikileaks.

We have not yet had an opportunity to study the leaked files in detail but they add to our concern that the US authorities committed a serious breach of international law when they summarily handed over thousands of detainees to Iraqi security forces who, they knew, were continuing to torture and abuse detainees on a truly shocking scale.

The new disclosures appear to closely match the findings of New Order, Same Abuses: Unlawful Detentions and Torture in Iraq, a report we published last month detailing the widespread torture and other ill-treatment of detainees by Iraqi forces, committed with impunity. Thousands of Iraqis who had been detained by US forces were transferred from US to Iraqi custody between early 2009 and July 2010 under an agreement between the USA and Iraq that contains no provisions for ensuring protection of the detainees’ human rights.

These documents apparently provide further evidence that the US authorities have been aware of this systematic abuse for years, yet they went ahead and handed over thousands of Iraqis they had detained to the Iraqi security forces.

The United States is a party to the UN Convention against Torture, the main international treaty prohibiting torture, which requires all states to prohibit torture and to refrain from transferring detainees to the authorities of another state at whose hands they face torture.

Amnesty International continues to campaign for full accountability for those detainees tortured and ill-treated by USA military personnel in Iraq, such as those in Abu Ghraib prison.

The US authorities, like all governments, have an obligation under international law not only to ensure that their own forces do not use torture, but also that people who were detained and are being held by US forces are not handed over to other authorities who are likely to torture them.

The USA failed to respect this obligation in Iraq, despite the great volume of evidence, available from many different quarters, showing that the Iraqi security forces use torture widely and are allowed to do so with impunity.

The information said to be in these documents also underscores the urgent need for the Iraqi government to take concrete measures to end torture, ensure the safety of all detainees, and root out and bring to justice those responsible for torture and other serious human rights abuses, however senior their position.

Join us in calling on President Obama and Congress to respect human rights and counter terror with justice.