Torture in Iraq: Case No. 4

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A former prisoner, aged 44, who was held in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib and Central prisons between May 1982 and March 1984 submitted a testimony to AI in July 1984. He was one of 114 persons who had 'disappeared' since reportedly being arrested between 1979 and 1982 by Iraqi security forces. When approached by AI about these cases, the Iraqi Government had claimed that the names submitted by the organization were fictitious. However, the person concerned had apparently been arrested after refusing to collaborate with the secret service, and the report he submitted to AI regarding his places of detention, conditions of imprisonment and use of torture, was consistent with reports received by AI in the past.

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The following details on prison conditions and torture methods are extracted from his testimony.

Description of prison conditions and alleged torture

In Baghdad Central Prison,"the cells are 2 x 3.5 metres, very dark and completely covered in red/brown tiles. These cells were really intended for one person and for short periods of interrogation but in fact are used for long periods with up to 18 people at one time. In some of these small cells, people have been detained for several years...a shower and open toilet are built in to each cell ...cold water is turned off and only turned on once a week for a couple of hours ...there are no visits from relatives, no correspondence and absolutely no information for the relatives of the whereabouts of the prisoners.

"There are some large cells with an area of approximately 50 square metres. One of these is specifically for female prisoners. With mass arrests or shortage of space the long corridors on both floors are also used. Steel poles are welded between the cell doors on both sides of the corridor at a height of about 20cm from the floor (this first happened in 1983) and the prisoners are handcuffed by one hand to this pole. In each of these large cells there are 80-130 prisoners, sometimes as many as 200. There is only one shower and an open lavatory for all of them. The air is foul and in order to sleep prisoners have to periodically swap places with one another.

"Medical treatment is very poor. Sick prisoners only receive medical treatment when they have reached a critical point. I have heard of many cases of death as a result of torture or appalling living conditions. In the large cell where I spent several months, we actually saw a man die in front of our eyes. It was the summer of 1983, there were approximately 130 people in the room, the air was very bad and extremely warm. An Iraqi prisoner fell unconscious, which often used to happen. We banged on the door to alert the guard. In the meantime, a prisoner (a doctor) tried to help him. When the guard and the doctor finally arrived it was far too late and he was already dead. He was about 30 years old, an electronic engineer, married with a small daughter.

"Approximately 50% of the prisoners were tortured. There are different methods of torture carried out in the torture chambers in the basement. At the entrance to the torture chamber there is a doormat with "Welcome" written on it in English. Torture takes the form of: electric shocks, gas and cigarette burns; electric hot plates; hanging from the ceiling handcuffed; being stretched on a special machine with hands and feet bound; beatings with a heavy cable or high pressure hose/tube. The tortured prisoners who are usually unconscious are then simply carried back to their cells and dumped on the floor in full view of their fellow prisoners.

"The prisoners are treated very badly by the prison officers ...anyone who does not completely submit, or protests about anything, e.g. by going on hungerstrike, gets severely beaten with cables by the guards in front of the other prisoners... the guards consider all the prisoners to be spies traitors and dangerous elements.

"Occasionally (approximately twice a month), the prisoners are taken to an area without a roof (approximately 80 square metres) for fresh air and sport. It lasts about half an hour. The guards give the orders, whip in hand. The prisoners have to endure unbearable "sporting activities"; the whole "sports time" turns into a series of beatings and insults."

Abu Ghraib Khassa (Abu Ghraib Special) "is an extension for the secret service of the main Abu Ghraib prison, with a separate entrance. Abu Ghraib Special is extremely closely guarded by the secret service personnel... There are 4 lavatories in the hall which have cold, filthy water. Three times a day the cell door is unlocked and you are allowed to go to the lavatories for a few minutes during which time you have to wash the bowl and fill up the water container. There are no showers, if you want to wash, or wash your hair, you are only allowed 10 minutes extra twice a month and again only cold water. If there are more than four in a cell the prisoners have to go to the lavatory in pairs. If they stay too long they are whipped and beaten by the guards. They make no exceptions, if a person needs to go to the toilet in the night they have to use the water container in the cell...From 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. sleeping and speaking to other prisoners is strictly forbidden; anyone who breaks this rule and gets caught is severely punished. It is unbearably hot in summer and extremely cold in winter, particularly at night. There is no heating whatsoever. A mercury lamp burns constantly in each cell (even at night)..."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/02/torture-in-iraq-case-no-4/303755/