By Kevin Ovenden
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Torture system still lives in ‘new’ Iraq

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SHOCKED, YES. Certainly disgusted. But no one, least of all the British and US governments, should be surprised by the revelations of systematic torture of Iraqi detainees. The pictures from Abu Ghraib prison broadcast on US television last week are the latest confirmation of what people in Iraq, human rights organisations and soldiers speaking anonymously have been saying for a year.
Issue 1900

SHOCKED, YES. Certainly disgusted. But no one, least of all the British and US governments, should be surprised by the revelations of systematic torture of Iraqi detainees. The pictures from Abu Ghraib prison broadcast on US television last week are the latest confirmation of what people in Iraq, human rights organisations and soldiers speaking anonymously have been saying for a year.

Widespread torture is taking place under the new management of what were Saddam Hussein’s prisons. This is not an aberration. An outstanding article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker magazine this week draws on a secret 53-page US army report. It shows that the CIA and military intelligence are driving the abuses.

Much of the media in Britain has tried to sidetrack the issue of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners into discussion about the details of the photos published by the Daily Mirror on Saturday. But the mountain of evidence of torture in the British-controlled zone in southern Iraq dwarfs the story and pictures the Daily Mirror broke.

Last year a British soldier who had returned from Iraq was arrested for trying to get similar pictures of torture developed. No minister or general was able to cast doubt on other pictures, again obtained last year, that showed British soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners.

Pictures, taken by an agency photographer, have shown troops forcing civilians to parade naked down the street. Not one soldier has been convicted of any offence. British military top brass have paid out £10,000 to the relatives of 22 civilians killed by its troops. But it refuses to accept any blame, and is hampering investigations into the deaths of a further eight detainees in British custody.

One of them is Baha Mousa, a 26 year old hotel worker who was beaten to death by members of the same Queen’s Lancashire Regiment named in the Mirror story. His father was in London this week trying to get the case heard at the High Court. Journalist Robert Fisk uncovered the story and wrote last weekend, “Didn’t the British lieutenants and captains and majors in the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment know their lads were kicking to death a young Iraqi hotel worker last summer? That man’s fate-and the documentary evidence proving he was murdered-was first revealed by the Independent on Sunday in January. I remember how in Basra I visited the British army’s press office in the city to ask about the death of 26 year old Baha Mousa. The dead man’s family had given me British documents proving that he had been beaten to death in custody, that the British army itself had tried to pay off the family if they would give up any legal claim against the soldiers who so cruelly killed their son. I was met with yawns and a total inability to furnish information about the event. I was told to call the Ministry of Defence in London. The officer I spoke to appeared weary, even impatient about my inquiry. There was not a single word of compassion for the dead man.”

Nicole Choueiry of Amnesty International says, “It comes as no surprise to us that there are allegations of torture involving British forces in Iraq. It is true that the Americans are in general involved in more incidents of brutality than the British, but we have discovered a pattern of torture in the British zone as well.”

Mercenaries: a law unto themselves

THE OCCUPATION is relying on a string of “contractor” companies. The Pentagon has “outsourced” interrogation and what military commentators call “torture-lite” to mercenary outfits. Two of them had personnel at Abu Ghraib. California-based Titan Corporation is one. Last year it gave $40,000 to George Bush’s Republican Party.

CACI International Inc, the other, describes its aim as helping “America’s intelligence community in the war on terrorism”. Richard Armitage, deputy US defence secretary, used to sit on its board of directors. CACI was given a $10 million contract in February for “24 contract specialists”. The Coalition Provisional Authority has exempted contractors from Iraqi law and jurisdiction.

Army inquiry

‘Abuse of prisoners is a routine’

“SADISTIC, BLATANT and wanton criminal abuses.” Those are the findings of a devastating 53-page internal US army report into the Abu Ghraib prison. Its author, Major General Antonio Taguba, found a catalogue of torture between October and December of last year. It included: “Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees. Pouring cold water on naked detainees. Beating detainees with a broom handle and chair. Threatening male detainees with rape. Sodomising a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick.”

Journalist Seymour Hersh writes, “Abuse of prisoners seemed almost a routine, a fact of army life that the soldiers felt no need to hide.” The Brigadier General in charge of prisons in occupied Iraq, Janis Karpinski, has revealed that the part of the prison where the most grotesque torture took place was under the control of military intelligence and the CIA.

“They encouraged and told us, ‘Great job.’ They were getting positive results and information,” wrote Staff Sergeant Chip Frederick, who is charged with abuses. Guards were told to “stress” prisoners. In November, Frederick wrote one prisoner was brought for questioning under the control of the CIA and its paramilitary employees:

“They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for 24 hours in the shower.” The man had never been entered into the prison records “and therefore never had a number”.

The Pentagon’s replacement for Janis Karpinski is Major General Geoffrey Miller, who ran the torture and interrogation centre at Guantanamo Bay.

Jackson’s history of backing murder

“IF GUILTY, they are not fit to wear the uniform.” Those were the words of “the UK’s most senior soldier” General Sir Mike Jackson about the Daily Mirror’s pictures. Had the soldiers in the photographs killed their prisoner, however, then they would likely escape Jackson’s call for them to be discharged.

Jackson was on the army board of inquiry which decided two soldiers should remain in the army despite being found guilty of murdering 18 year old Catholic Peter McBride in Northern Ireland.

The Court of Appeal ruled last June that the army should have kicked out the soldiers. The Ministry of Defence said they would remain “in uniform”. General Jackson was the Paratroops’ press officer in Derry on Bloody Sunday, the day they shot dead 13 men and boys in 1972. He produced a list that claimed those shot were armed-they were not.

He was posted with the Paras at the notorious Palace Barracks in Northern Ireland where many of those interned without trial were taken.

The Sunday Times reported on 17 October 1971 that during interrogation internees “were continuously hooded, barefoot, dressed only in an over-large boiler suit, and spreadeagled against a wall leaning on their fingertips. The only sound that filled the room was a high-pitched throb. The noise literally drove them out of their minds.”

Catalogue of brutality

AMONG OTHER evidence of torture in Iraq are:

  • On 23 July 2003 Amnesty International’s report “Iraq: Memorandum on Concerns Relating to Law and Order” spoke of “allegations of torture or ill treatment”. Amnesty raised the allegations in a letter to Iraq overlord Paul Bremer on 26 June 2003. But, “testimonies from recently released detainees held at Camp Cropper and Abu Ghraib prison do not suggest that conditions of detention have improved”.

  • On 22 July 2003 Robert Fisk published “The Ugly Truth Of America’s Camp Cropper”, in which he told the story of Qais Mohamed al-Salman, an engineer and Iraqi exile who returned after Saddam was overthrown to help his country. He was systematically abused at Camp Cropper.

  • Two US Marines are facing a court martial on charges including assault and dereliction of duty. Nagem Sadoon Hatab was killed in Camp Pendleton on 6 June 2003, when a US soldier grabbed him by the neck and snapped a bone in his throat.
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