Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat – Iraq is still in the grip of the trove of classified US military documents that were made public by the WikiLeaks website earlier this week. These secret documents detail allegations of prisoner abuse and torture, civilian killings, and corruption following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Former detainees have described their time in Iraqi prisoners, and their treatment there as being, a “nightmare” that has irrevocably affected their lives.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to a former detainee who identified himself only as “A.K.” He was initially arrested by governmental forces in 2006 in the al-Doura neighborhood of southern Baghdad. “A.K” told Asharq Al-Awsat that he spent a total of 10 months in prison without being charges and that he still does not know why he was arrested.
“A.K.” told Asharq Al-Awsat that after spending 10 months in prison “the judge ordered my release but the prison security forces tried to blackmail me, demanding $13,000 in return for my release. When I refused to pay this I was subject to daily torture and humiliation until one of the US fact-finding teams visited the prison following allegations [in Iraq] about financial and administrative corruption in Iraqi prisons. I spoke with this team and asked them to ensure my release.”
“A.K.” reveals that he was released several months later, and that his time in prison has permanently damaged his life. He claims to be unable to speak clearly as a result of the torture that he was subject to in prison. “A.K.” has also been psychologically affected by his time in prison, telling Asharq Al-Awsat that he remains constantly on the move for fear of being arrested once again. Asked why he fears being arrested again, he said “I have never broken the law in my life and still I was arrested and tortured, therefore what law can protect me from being wrongfully arrested a second time?”
Asharq Al-Awsat also spoke to a man who identified himself as Nijm, whose brothers were killed by US forces in 2007. The 53-year old Iraqi revealed that all of his brothers “were killed by US forces in 2007 in the Abu Ghraib region after they were attacked in their home during the night.”
He told Asharq Al-Awsat that “when we asked for their bodies to be returned to us [for burial], they only returned their bodies after 5 days, even after we presented all the right documentation that confirmed that they were students and government employees [not militants], however we did not receive a receptive ear from either the government or the US forces.”
He added “I am looking through the [WikiLeaks] internet website to obtain documents that might incriminate the US army.
Human rights activist and lawyer Wadie Khadir Mohamed stressed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “there are thousands of detainees who have been arrested without officially being charged with any crime, and this practice is still taking place, and their cases have not reached Iraqi court, or even been investigated.” He added “these are problems that must be investigated for we are either facing authorities that are following a foreign agenda or aiming to disrupt such investigations.”
For his part, Iraqiya bloc member Salman al-Jamili, expressed his surprise at the Iraqi government’s lack of response to the documents. Al-Jamili said that “much of what has been hidden will be revealed in these documents that condemn many who committed crimes against the Iraqi people…these will [also] reveal the genuine intentions of some neighboring countries towards the Iraqi people, and the negative governmental management of the situation.”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called on Washington to investigate reports that indicate that US troops were involved in the deaths of Iraqi civilians and ignored Iraqi prisoner abuse, in fact transferring thousands of prisoners into Iraqi custody between 2009 and July 2010 despite being in possession of this information. Pillay said that the U.S. and Iraq should prosecute anyone believed responsible for torture, unlawful killings and other abuses.
Amnesty International has also called on Washington to investigate how much US officials knew about the alleged abuse of prisoners.
The WikiLeaks release of secret military documents has been the subject of major controversy; however WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange defended this saying that this was intended to reveal the “truth” about the Iraq conflict.