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The following is an edited transcript of the Red Cross report into the Coalition's torture and killing of prisoners in Iraq
THE International Committee of the Red Cross is mandated by the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to monitor the full application of and respect for the third and fourth Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty.
The information contained in this report is based on allegations collected by the ICRC in private interviews with persons deprived of their liberty during its visits to places of internment of the Coalition Forces (CF) between March and November 2003. The allegations have been thoroughly revised in order to present this report as factually as possible.
Treatment during arrest
Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands with flexi-cuffs, hooding them, and taking them away. Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles. Certain CF military intelligence officers told the ICRC that they estimate between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.
In almost all instances documented by the ICRC, arresting authorities provided no information about who they were, where their base was located, nor did they explain the cause of arrest.
Treatment during transfer and initial custody
One allegation collected by the ICRC concerned the arrest of nine men by the CF in a hotel in Basrah on September 13, 2003. Following their arrest, the nine men were made to kneel (with) faces and hands against the ground, as if in a prayer position. The soldiers stamped on the back of the neck of those raising their head. They confiscated their money without issuing a receipt. The suspects were taken to al-Hakimiya in Basrah and then beaten severely by CF personnel. One of the arrestees died following the ill-treatment; aged 28, married, father of two children. Prior to his death, his co-arrestees heard him screaming and asking for assistance. An eyewitness description of the body given to the ICRC mentioned a broken nose, several broken ribs and skin lesions on the face consistent with beatings.
During a visit of the ICRC in Camp Bucca on September 22, 2003, a 61-year-old person deprived of his liberty alleged that he had been tied, hooded and forced to sit on the hot surface of what he surmised to be the engine of a vehicle, which had caused severe burns to his buttocks. The ICRC observed large crusted lesions consistent with his allegation. The ICRC also collected allegations of deaths as a result of harsh internment conditions, ill-treatment, lack of medical attention or the combination thereof, notably in Tikrit holding areas formerly known as the Saddam Hussein Islamic School.
Treatment during the interrogations
The methods of ill-treatment most frequently alleged during interrogation included:
Hooding, used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely. Hooding was sometimes used in conjunction with beatings, thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would come. The practice of hooding also allowed the interrogators to remain anonymous and thus to act with impunity.
Beatings with hard objects (including pistols and rifles), slapping, punching, kicking with knees or feet on various parts of the body.
Threats of ill-treatment, reprisals against family members, imminent execution or transfer to Guantanamo.
Acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the head for prolonged periods -- while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position.
Being attached repeatedly over several days, for several hours each time, with handcuffs to the bars of their cell door in humiliating (i.e. naked or in underwear) and/or uncomfortable position causing physical pain.
Exposure while hooded to loud noise or music, prolonged exposure to the sun while hooded over several hours, including during the hottest time of the day when temperatures could reach 50C or higher.
In mid-October 2003, the ICRC visited persons undergoing interrogation by military intelligence officers in Unit 1A, the "isolation section" of Abu Ghraib Correctional Facility. The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was "part of the process". The process appeared to be a give-and-take policy whereby persons deprived of their liberty were "drip fed" with new items (clothing, bedding, hygiene articles etc) in exchange for their "co-operation".
The ICRC medical delegate examined persons presenting signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behaviour and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms appeared to have been caused by the methods of interrogation.
Allegations of ill-treatment by Iraqi police
The ICRC has also collected a growing body of allegations relating to widespread abuse of power and ill-treatment of persons in the custody of Iraqi police. This included the extensive practice of threatening to hand over these persons to the CF for internment, or claiming to act under the CF instructions, in order to abuse their power and extort money from persons taken in custody. Allegations collected by the ICRC indicated that numerous people had been handed over to the CF on the basis of unfounded accusations because they were unable, or unwilling, to pay bribes to the police. During interrogation, the detaining authorities allegedly whipped persons with cables on the back, kicked them in the lower parts of the body, including in the testicles, handcuffed and left them hanging from the iron bars of the cell windows or doors in painful positions for several hours at a time, and burned them with cigarettes (signs on bodies witnessed by ICRC delegates). Many persons deprived of their liberty drew parallels between police practices under the occupation with those of the former regime. One group allegedly had water poured on their legs and had electrical shocks administered to them with stripped tips of electric wires. One person was threatened with having his wife brought in and raped.
Excessive and disproportionate use of force
Since March 2003, the ICRC recorded and, in some cases, witnessed a number of incidents in which guards shot at persons with live ammunition, in the context either of unrest relating to internment conditions or of escape attempts by individuals.
Camp Cropper, June 12, 2003: Two, or possibly three, persons deprived of their liberty were shot at when they attempted to escape through the barbed wire fence. One of them, Akheel Abd Al-Hussein from Baghdad, was wounded and later died after being taken to the hospital.
Abu Ghraib, November 24, 2003: During a riot four detainees were killed by US MP guards. The detainees claimed to be unhappy with the situation of detention. The detainees were alleged to have gathered near the gate whereupon the guards panicked and started shooting.
Protection of persons deprived of their liberty against shelling
Sinced its reopening by the CF, Abu Ghraib prison has been the target of frequent night shelling by mortars and other weapons, which resulted, on several occasions, in persons deprived of their liberty being killed or injured. During the month of July, the commander of the facility reported at least 25 such attacks. On August 16, three mortar rounds landed in the prison compound, killing at least five and injuring 67 persons deprived of their liberty. An ICRC team visited Abu Ghraib on August 17 and noticed the lack of protective measures: while the CF personnel were living in concrete buildings, all persons deprived of their liberty were sheltered under tents in compounds which had no bunkers or any other protection, rendering them totally vulnerable.
This ICRC report documents serious violations of international humanitarian law relating to the conditions of treatment of the persons deprived of their liberty held by the CF in Iraq. In particular, it establishes that they face the risk of being subjected to a process of physical and psychological coercion, in some cases tantamount to torture, in the early stages of the internment process.
Once the interrogation process is over, the conditions of treatment for the persons deprived of their liberty generally improve, except in the "High Value Detainee" section at Baghdad international airport where persons deprived of their liberty have been held for nearly 23 hours a day in strict solitary confinement in small concrete cells devoid of daylight, an internment regime which does not comply with provisions of the third and fourth Geneva Conventions.
The practices described in this report are prohibited under international humanitarian law.
They warrant serious attention by the CF. In particular, the CF should review their policies and practices, take corrective action and improve the treatment of prisoners of war and other protected persons under their authority.
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