The United States occupation authorities have refused to allow Iraqi and international human rights groups to attend the court martial of a soldier allegedly involved in the torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, Human Rights Watch said today. The court martial of Army Specialist Jeremy C. Sivits takes place in Baghdad today.

“Barring human rights monitors from the court martial is a bad decision in its own right,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “It also sends a terrible signal to Iraqis and others deeply concerned about what transpired in Abu Ghraib.”

Army Specialist Sivits faces up to one year in prison and other penalties on charges of conspiracy to mistreat detainees, negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty and maltreatment, and maltreatment of detainees. The court-martial will be held in Baghdad at the Convention Center in the U.S.-controlled Green Zone. U.S. authorities said members of the media will be permitted to attend the court martial.

Captain Mark Doggett told Human Rights Watch that senior officers had discussed attendance by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations and decided not to permit their attendance for unspecified “security among other reasons.” Capt. Doggett refused to provide the name of a senior officer to whom Human Rights Watch could protest the exclusion and request a reversal.

“It’s positive that U.S. military authorities are allowing the media to attend tomorrow’s hearing,” said Whitson. “But it is unreasonable to exclude Human Rights Watch and other rights monitors who have expertise in the abuses at the heart of the court martial.”