(Baghdad) - Iraq's announcement on March 14, 2011, that it will close the Camp Honor detention center after a parliamentary committee uncovered torture there is a positive move but only a first step, Human Rights Watch said today. A pressing need remains for an independent investigation into who was responsible for the abuse there, Human Rights Watch said.
Iraqi officials should establish an independent body with authority to impartially investigate the torture that occurred at Camp Honor and other sites run by the 56th Brigade, also known as the "Baghdad Brigade," and the Counterterrorism Service - the elite security forces attached to the military office of the prime minister. The investigating body should recommend disciplinary steps or criminal prosecution of everyone of any rank implicated in the abuse, Human Rights Watch said.
"Shutting down Camp Honor will mean little if detainees are shuffled to other facilities to face torture again," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "There needs to be a genuine, independent investigation and criminal prosecution of everyone, regardless of rank, responsible for the horrific abuses there."
The Justice Ministry announced on March 14 that it would close Camp Honor after members of a parliamentary investigative committee, consisting largely of parliament's Human Rights Committee members, found evidence of torture during a spot inspection of the facility five days earlier. Investigative committee members told Human Rights Watch that they had observed 175 prisoners in "horrible conditions" at the prison, in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. They said they saw physical "signs of recent abuse, including electric shocks" and marks on detainees' bodies, including long scars across their backs.
Detainees described to committee members the torture they endured there and said that more than 40 other detainees had been hastily moved from the facility less than an hour before members of the committee arrived.
Iraq's Minister of Justice Hassan al-Shammari told Human Rights Watch on March 29 that all of Camp Honor's detainees - between 150 and 160 - had been moved to three other facilities under the control of his ministry. According to the parliamentary committee, however, the number of detainees held at Camp Honor was higher. The committee, established by parliament on February 8 after a Human Rights Watch report and a Los Angeles Times article documented the abuse of detainees at Camp Honor, said it had officially requested from prison authorities a list of all the detainees' names, but had received no information as of March 29.
In response to repeated allegations of serious abuse at Iraqi detention facilities, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki issued a statement on March 19 reiterating that "there are no secret detention centers, and all prisons and detention centers are open to regulatory authorities and judicial authorities, which must report any violations found, if any, and notify judicial authorities to take legal action against the perpetrators."
However, the February 1 report by Human Rights Watch described a new secret prison within Camp Justice, a sprawling military base in northwest Baghdad, run by the same forces in charge at Camp Honor - the 56th Brigade and the Counterterrorism Service - both of which report directly to the prime minister's military office. The Counterterrorism Service works closely with US Special Forces.
The Human Rights Watch report revealed that the Justice Ministry had minimal oversight control over these facilities and that prison officials abused detainees with impunity at Camp Honor. In December 2010, Human Rights Watch spoke with more than a dozen former detainees from Camp Honor, who described how detainees were held incommunicado and in inhumane conditions, often for months at a time. Detainees described in detail the wide-ranging abuses they endured during interrogation sessions at the facility, usually to extract confessions. They said interrogators beat them, hung them upside down for hours at a time, administered electric shocks to various body parts, including their genitals, and asphyxiated them repeatedly with plastic bags put over their heads until they passed out.
"Instead of more denials, Iraqi authorities should come clean and name those who were responsible for running Camp Honor and the abuses that happened under their watch," Stork said. "If the government is serious about ending torture, it must immediately prevent security forces from running other sites beyond the reach of the judicial system."