BAGHDAD — Security forces linked to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are operating a “secret detention site” and elite teams are torturing detainees at a separate facility, Human Rights Watch charged on Tuesday.
The New York-based watchdog’s claims come a week after the Los Angeles Times reported some detainees at a prison in the Iraqi capital’s heavily fortified Green Zone had been abused and held without charge for up to two years, charges Baghdad denies.
HRW said that in late November, Iraqi authorities moved nearly 300 detainees to a secret site within a military base known as Camp Justice in the Kadhimiyah neighborhood of north Baghdad, citing interviews it had conducted and classified government documents it obtained.
“The hurried transfers took place just days before an international inspection team was to examine conditions at the detainees’ previous location at Camp Honor in the Green Zone,” HRW said in a statement.
“The Iraqi government should immediately close the facilities or regularize their position and make them open for inspections and visits,” it added.
The rights group said it had obtained 18 documents on the subject, and cited a letter dated December 6, 2010, from the prosecutor’s office at a top Iraqi court asking Maliki to stop barring prison inspectors and relatives from visiting.
It said it had also obtained a January 13, 2011 letter from the justice minister to Maliki, addressed to the premier in his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, stating that human rights ministry prison inspectors had been prevented from visiting the site.
HRW said that the facility was run by the Iraqi army’s 56th brigade, known locally as “the Baghdad brigade,” and the counter-terrorism service, both of which report directly to Maliki.
The rights group said the site was located within a legitimate detention facility located within Camp Justice.
Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim denied that there was any such secret site, telling AFP: “All the sections of the prison are available to us — there are no secrets. … There is no secret prison there.”
HRW also said that former detainees had told it they were subjected to abuse at Camp Honor. The LA Times said last week that detainees at the camp, a facility in a defense ministry compound within the Green Zone, were abused and not provided regular access to lawyers or their families.
Ibrahim, the minister responsible for prisons, told AFP the same day that rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), had visited Camp Honor, but the ICRC said it never inspected the facility.
HRW said in its statement that detainees held there said “interrogators beat them, hung them upside down for hours at a time, administered electric shocks to various body parts, including the genitals, and asphyxiated them repeatedly with plastic bags put over their heads until they passed out.”
The group’s HRW deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in the statement: “The government needs to close these places or move them under control of the justice system, improve conditions for detainees, and make sure that anyone responsible for torture is punished.”
Iraq has a fractured penal system in which the interior, defense and justice ministries all run their own detention centers. Convicts are held in justice ministry jails while detainees yet to face trial are held in any of the three.