(Beirut) – The amputation of a detainee’s arm in early 2019 following apparent torture in a Baghdad police station highlights mounting concerns around ill-treatment in Iraq’s prisons, Human Rights Watch said today.
The man’s brother said that a complaint by the victim during his trial has been ignored and that a complaint by his wife to the agency that supervises judicial conduct had received no response. The brother said he had requested an investigation, which led to the transfer of a police officer but no disciplinary action. Judicial authorities should investigate and determine who was responsible, punish abusive officers, and compensate the victim.
“A detainee who loses his arm because of torture in custody is one more sign that something is very wrong in Iraqi detention facilities,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should take detainees’ rights seriously and start to protect them by investigating abuses.”
Iraqi judges, despite the extensive credible reports of torture in detention, routinely fail to investigate torture allegations, Human Rights Watch has found. Human Rights Watch has documented numerous torture allegations in Iraq, in at least two cases leading to deaths in custody since January 2018.
A man who requested anonymity to protect himself and his family told Human Rights Watch that an acquaintance of his 40-year-old brother had named the brother as an accomplice in a car theft. Police arrested him in late March 2018. A week later, his brother visited him at Harthiya police station. The jailed brother told him that during an extended interrogation in which an interrogator was trying to extract a confession, he had “hung him from his hands for three days,” and showed his brother the bruises.
The jailed brother underwent a forensic medical exam in May 2018. Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of the report, which noted bruising and swelling to his left hand and arm all the way to his shoulder and recommended that he see a doctor who specialized in bones and fractures.
He did not receive medical treatment until July, when police transferred him to Yarmouk Hospital in Baghdad. The man said he was allowed to accompany his brother and heard a doctor tell the officer guarding his brother that the brother had been tortured, which the officer denied. Doctors performed surgery on his arm three times over the next 10 months in an unsuccessful attempt to repair arterial damage. In April 2019, the man said, officers took his brother to Ghazi al-Hariri Hospital in Baghdad, where doctors amputated his arm and then returned him to police custody.
In December 2018, the brother who spoke to Human Rights Watch contacted Major General Hussein Ali Dana, the then head of Baghdad Inspection Directorate in the Interior Ministry to demand an investigation into the abuse his brother suffered. He said Dana sent a team to investigate and told the man later that he had ordered the transfer of the officer the jailed brother accused to another police station in Baghdad but did not discipline him further. Human Rights Watch contacted the directorate’s current head, who said that without the exact date of the December complaint, the office could not provide any information on the investigation.
In January 2019, the jailed brother’s wife lodged a complaint with the presidency of the Judicial Supervisory Authority, which monitors the conduct of judges and staff in all Iraqi courts, because her husband told her that in late 2018 a judge had forced him to sign a statement dropping his right to pursue charges against the officer who had tortured him. She told Human Rights Watch she had not heard anything since. On June 25, Chief Justice Jassim Alumairi, the Judicial Supervisory Council president, told Human Rights Watch that a team had investigated the allegation but had not found evidence to substantiate it, but could not share any of the documents related to the investigation with Human Rights Watch.
On April 14, a court found the jailed brother guilty of car theft and sentenced him and five other defendants to 15 years in prison. At the trial, his wife said, she heard him tell the judge that an interrogator tortured him leading to his arm being amputated but the judge ignored the claim. He is currently still being held at Harthiya police station.
Iraq’s High Judicial Council, which manages and supervises affairs of the federal judiciary, should issue guidelines on the steps judges are obliged to take when a defendant alleges torture, Human Rights Watch said. Judges should investigate all credible allegations of torture and the security forces responsible, and order transfers of detainees to different facilities immediately after they allege torture or ill-treatment to protect them from retaliation. They should prosecute anyone against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in torture.
“Iraq’s judiciary, law enforcement, and prison authorities owe all Iraqis a commitment to investigate each and every credible allegation of cruel treatment,” Fakih said. “What happened to this detainee should never happen to anyone in the government’s custody.”