(Beirut) – Iraqi authorities should order a criminal investigation into allegations that security forces tortured to death a bodyguard of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Human Rights Watch said today.
Iraqi authorities released Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi’s body to his family on March 20, 2012, about three months after arresting him for terrorism. His family told Human Rights Watch that his body displayed signs of torture, including in several sensitive areas. Photographs taken by the family and seen by Human Rights Watch show what appear to be a burn mark and wounds on various parts of his body.
“The statements we heard and photos we saw indicate that Iraqi security officers may have tortured Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi to death while he was in their custody,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s essential for the Iraqi government to investigate his death and report publicly what they find.”
The family said that al-Batawi’s death certificate listed no cause of death. They said that before his arrest, the 33-year-old married father of three was in excellent health.
“I could barely recognize him,” a close relative told Human Rights Watch on March 22. “There were horrible marks and signs of torture all over his body. He had lost about 17 kilos [37.5 pounds] from the day they arrested him.”
Iraqi authorities have denied the torture allegations. On March 22, Lt. Gen. Hassan al-Baydhani, chief of staff of Baghdad’s security command center and a judicial spokesman, said al-Batawi died of kidney failure and other conditions after refusing treatment. When asked by reporters about the photographic evidence that al-Batawi had been tortured, Baydhani replied, “It is easy for Photoshop to show anything,” referring to a digital photo-editing software.
As the United States was pulling its last remaining troops from Iraq in December 2011, Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi on charges he was running death squads. Al-Hashemi has taken refuge in Iraqi Kurdistan and refused to return to Baghdad, saying he cannot receive a fair trial. Kurdistan Regional Government authorities have so far declined to hand him over.
An unknown number of other members of al- Hashemi’s security and office staff have been arrested since late December and are also in custody, including two women. On March 22, al-Hashemi told Human Rights Watch, “I have made repeated requests to the government to find out who else in my staff has been arrested and where they are being held, but they have not responded.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Iraqi government to release the names of all those detained and the charges against them, and to ensure that they have access to lawyers and medical care.