After torture claims, Iraqi PM says prisoners ‘burned themselves’ with matches to fake abuse

By John Byrne
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 9:42 EDT
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After a shocking report by Human Rights Watch accusing the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki with operating a secret Baghdad prison where detainees were hung upside down, whipped and suffocated, the embattled Iraqi leader accused his political opponents and foreign governments of staging faked torture to make him look bad.

The stunning claim by the Shia prime minister comes after news that his Defense Ministry allegedly operated a secret prison which repeatedly tortured Sunni prisoners. A draft report by Human Rights Watch, released to the New York Times on Tuesday, revealed that guards had routinely abused detainees in horrifying fashion.

“The group said it had interviewed 42 detainees who displayed fresh scars and wounds,” the Times’ Sam Dagher wrote. “Many said they were raped, sodomized with broomsticks and pistol barrels, or forced to engage in sexual acts with one another and their jailers.”

“All said they were tortured by being hung upside down and then whipped and kicked before being suffocated with a plastic bag,” Dagher added. “Those who passed out were revived, they said, with electric shocks to their genitals and other parts of their bodies.”

“They applied electricity to my penis and sodomized me with a stick,” one of the former prisoners said.

In response, Prime Minister Maliki said the charges were false and that “there are no secret prisons in Iraq at all,” a claim that seems to be spurious on its face.

Speaking on government-controlled Iraqiya TV, Maliki said the torture charges were “lies,” a “smear campaign” orchestrated by foreign embassies and the media that have been tooled by his opponents for political gain.

Maliki went even further, positing that opposition lawmakers encouraged prisoners to hatch fake torture charges by “rubbing matches on some of their body parts” to give themselves scars.

He then said it was somewhat acceptable because of the scandal over the US-run Abu Ghraib prison.

“America is the symbol of democracy, but then you have the abuses at Abu Ghraib,” Maliki remarked, according to Dagher’s report. “The American government took tough measures, and we are doing the same, so where is the problem and why this raucousness?”

Noted Dagher: “Mr. Maliki’s comments appeared to contradict information provided by a minister in his own government, officials at the United States Embassy in Baghdad and the latest Human Rights Watch findings.”

Maliki is currently engaged in a political battle with the Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya party, which recently won the largest share of seats in a parliamentary election.

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