Beaten, Shocked, Eyes Gouged: Iraq Abuse, WikiLeaked
Torture was a signature feature of the state terror that Saddam Hussein inflicted on Iraq. The voluminous Iraq-war documents released by WikiLeaks today show that getting rid of Saddam didn’t eradicate the brutal tendencies of the revamped Iraqi security forces. Detainees were roughed up with pipes, knives, cables, electricity — even a cat in the face. Some suspects were so scared, they confessed to being terrorists, just so they could be shipped to the Americans.
WikiLeaks proved at least one thing through its release of nearly 400,000 U.S. military reports from the Iraq war: the brutalization of detainees continued years after the Abu Ghraib scandal, perpetrated largely by Iraqi police and soldiers whom the U.S. trained. In at least one case, Iraqi police even brawled with private security guards. While early press coverage of the WikiLeaked documents has zeroed in on the abuse, it’s barely scratched the surface.
Searching the WikiLeaks Iraq trove for incidents of reported detainee abuse results in literally thousands of accounts of brutality. Some of them involve U.S. troops allegedly inflicting harm upon detainees in their custody. A detainee held by coalition forces in southern Iraq said in February 2006 that a U.S. task force beat him to the point where he lost one of his eyes. “Capture photo depicts a bandage over his right eye, and injury to his right forearm,” a report reads.
Some of the more gruesome and unseemly accounts of abuse are the result of Iraqi security forces. In Anbar Province in 2005 — then the heart of the Sunni insurgency — Iraqi police threw a cat on a detainee’s face, threatened him with knives and beat him with cables; Iraqi National Guardsmen and even U.S. troops may have been involved. Baghdad cops may have also deprived detainees of medical treatment: one account describes detainees as “walking wounded,” showing visible “open sores”; it notes that some “detainees have died of disease in recent weeks.”
Detainees in Mosul in 2005 — just months after insurgents briefly overran U.S. and Iraqi forces to control the city in November 2004 — told U.S. troops that they confessed to being terrorists so they could be transferred to U.S. custody, a way to escape the beatings they received from Iraqi soldiers. That same year, a detainee questioned by Iraqi soldiers passed out, leading the soldiers to report that he was on drugs. They sent him to an Iraqi police station, where he never woke up. His death was classified as a drug overdose; a U.S. report says his body appeared not to have exhibited signs of abuse.
Cables show up in the documents as an implement of choice for the Iraqi security forces to discipline detainees. One Iraqi unit used “cables and water pipes” south of Baghdad to beat a detainee on the legs and buttocks. In Fallujah, another detainee reported that an Iraqi police captain beat him with a cable, leaving “dime-size” welts on his thigh. In Mosul, Iraqi police whacked three detainees with cables on the “back, chest and face” and “hung [them] by the wrist” until they confessed to terrorist acts.
Other Iraqi police techniques are even blunter. One Baghdad detainee said the police burned him with cigarettes, shocked him with electricity and beat him with a “stick to extract info.”
In one bizarre case, the Iraqi police in the southern port city of Umm Qasr came under apparently unprovoked attack from contractors from the now-disbanded Crescent Security Group in 2005. A Crescent employee “fired shots” at an Iraqi police patrol. When coalition forces came to investigate, the Crescent guard — his nationality isn’t identified — had a “minor cut to the nose and a bloodied mouth.” Iraqi cops claim the guard suffered the bruising during arrest, not in lock-up.
There are accounts of U.S. troops trying to stop the abuse. U.S. troops investigated an account of Iraqi national guardsmen beating a detainee in Mosul in 2005; it’s not clear what became of the incident. (The Iraqi National Guard was essentially dissolved and folded into the Iraqi Army in 2005.) Members of a U.S. brigade in Basra had to intervene after seeing Iraqi cops drag an Iraqi out of his car to beat him up in the street.
A statement that Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, emailed to reporters ahead of the WikiLeaks release called the documents “essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story.”
The site WikiLeaks set up to allow readers to search through the documents is overloaded as of this writing. But a search earlier this afternoon just for abuse accounts from 2009 — the most recent year the documents cover — turned up over 90 largely-vague accounts. There are 50,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq with the primary residual mission to increase the Iraqi security forces’ competence, professionalism and obedience to the rule of law. The documents WikiLeaks revealed underscores just how massive their challenge is.
– With Adam Rawnsley
Photo: Army National Guard
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