Iraq: Mass Arrests, Incommunicado Detentions
Notorious Prison in Use a Year After Government Said It Was Shut Down
May 15, 2012
(Beirut) – Iraq’s government has been carrying out mass arrests and unlawfully detaining people in the notorious Camp Honor prison facility in Baghdad’s Green Zone, based on numerous interviews with victims, witnesses, family members, and government officials. The government had claimed a year ago that it had closed the prison, where Human Rights Watch had documented rampant torture.
Since October 2011 Iraqi authorities have conducted several waves of detentions,
one of which arresting officers and officials termed “precautionary.” Numerous witnesses
told Human Rights Watch that security forces have typically surrounded neighborhoods
in Baghdad and other provinces and gone door-
“Iraqi security forces are grabbing people outside of the law, without trial or known charges, and hiding them away in incommunicado sites,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Iraqi government should immediately reveal the names and locations of all detainees, promptly free those not charged with crimes, and bring those facing charges before an independent judicial authority.”
The government should appoint an independent judicial commission to investigate continuing
allegations of torture and other ill-
Multiple witnesses told Human Rights Watch that some detainees arrested since December 2011 have been held in the Camp Honor prison in Baghdad’s International Zone, known as the Green Zone. In March 2011 the government announced it had closed Camp Honor prison, after legislators visited the site in response to evidence Human Rights Watch provided of repeated torture at the facility.
The two most sweeping arrest dragnets occurred in October and November 2011, detaining people alleged to be Baath Party and Saddam Hussein loyalists, and in March 2012, ahead of the Arab summit in Baghdad at the end of that month.
In April two Justice Ministry officials separately told Human Rights Watch that since
the roundups began in October, security forces often have not transferred prisoners
into the full custody of the justice system, as required by Iraq law. Instead, the
officials said, security forces have transported dozens of prisoners at a time in
and out of various prison facilities, sometimes without adequate paperwork or explanation,
under the authority of the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-
Fourteen lawyers, detainees, and government officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that recent detainees have been held at Camp Honor prison. Some of the officials said that detainees have also been held at two secret detention facilities, also inside Baghdad’s Green Zone. These allegations are consistent with concerns raised in a confidential letter from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) obtained by Human Rights Watch in July 2011 after the letter’s existence was made public by the Los Angeles Times.
Officials, lawyers, and former detainees also told Human Rights Watch that judicial investigators from the Supreme Judicial Council continue to conduct interrogations at the Camp Honor prison. Between December and May, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 35 former detainees, family members, lawyers, legislators, and Iraqi government and security officials from the Defense, Interior, and Justice Ministries. Without exception, they expressed great concern for their own safety and requested that Human Rights Watch withhold all names, dates, and places of interviews to protect their identities.
“It’s a matter of grave concern that Iraqis in so many walks of life, officials included,
are afraid for their own well-
“Precautionary” Detentions ahead of March 2012 Arab Summit
The most recent mass arrests occurred in March as the government dramatically tightened security throughout Baghdad in preparation for the Arab League summit there on March 29. Family members and witnesses told Human Rights Watch that arresting officers characterized the roundups as a “precautionary” measure to prevent terrorist attacks during the summit. Six detainees released in April told Human Rights Watch that while they were in detention, interrogators told them that they were being held to curb criminal activity during the summit and any “embarrassing” public protests.
Legislators from Prime Minister al-
In Baghdad neighborhoods where multiple arrests were made, including Adhamiya, Furat, Jihad, Abu Ghraib, and Rathwaniya, residents told Human Rights Watch it appeared that a large proportion of those detained had previously spent time in prisons run by the US military, including Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca, and Camp Cropper. Some family members and legislators concluded that people were being arrested not because of suspected current criminal activity, but simply because they had been detained before.
In May an Interior Ministry official told Human Rights Watch that “security forces, in the interest of keeping security incidents to a minimum during the summit, while the world was watching, sometimes decided it was easier to just round up people who had been imprisoned years before, regardless of what crime they may have committed.” In April a Justice Ministry official told Human Rights Watch that of the hundreds arrested, “some have been released, about 100 will be officially charged within the justice system, and the rest are somewhere else. We do not know where.”
During an April 9 parliament session, Hassan al-
Two other members of the parliamentary committee subsequently told Human Rights Watch that this figure greatly underreported arrests that month. At the April 9 session an investigative committee was formed, made up of members of the Security and Defense and Human Rights committees. Members of the investigative committee told Human Rights Watch that plans to visit detainees never happened. To date, no investigation results have been released.
In October and November 2011, security forces arrested hundreds of people in Baghdad
and outlying provinces, almost all during nighttime raids on residential neighborhoods.
State television reported that Prime Minister al-
A man whose 57-
The man’s son showed Human Rights Watch a document the police had given to him that listed the date his father was arrested but left blank the space reserved for the name of the detention facility.
Upon learning that some prisoners were being held in Baghdad’s Rusafa prisons, run
by the Justice Ministry, Human Rights Watch asked Justice Minister Hassan al-
Though not all arrests have been on the same scale as those in October, November, and March, regular arrest campaigns have taken place, often in largely Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad as well as in several outlying provinces, said witnesses, family members and media reports. Strict government secrecy regarding the number of arrests and exact charges makes it difficult to assess the scope.
While some prisoners were released within hours or days and say they were not mistreated, others told Human Rights Watch they were tortured, including with repeated electric shocks. Most said interrogators forced them to sign pledges not to criticize the government publicly or to sign confessions. They said interrogators threatened that unless they signed these documents they would suffer physical violence, female family members would be raped, or they would never be released. Some families told Human Rights Watch that they were told to pay thousands of dollars in bribes to secure their loved ones’ release. In two cases known to Human Rights Watch, detainees were released after the families made such payments.
Camp Honor Prison
Camp Honor is a military base of more than 15 buildings within Baghdad’s fortified International Zone, which Iraqis and others continue to refer to as the Green Zone. The Iraqi Army’s 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade, which falls under direct command of the Office of the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, controls the Camp Honor complex and is responsible for the security of the Green Zone.
On March 29, 2011, Justice Minister al-
Contrary to this assurance, Human Rights Watch has received information from government and security officials indicating that some detainees from the “Baathist” and “Summit” roundups were held in Camp Honor prison and that it is still being used at least as a temporary holding site, or as a place to extract confessions before moving detainees into the official correctional system. This use of military prisons outside the control of the Justice Ministry is consistent with known procedures at other publicly acknowledged facilities outside of the ministry’s control, such as Muthanna Airport Prison and a facility in western Baghdad run by the army’s Muthanna Brigade, both of which have also housed hundreds of detainees from the recent arrests, according to government officials and former detainees.
A security official from the Defense Ministry told Human Rights Watch in April that judicial investigators attached to the Supreme Judicial Council go to the Camp Honor prison on a regular basis, where they participate in investigations and interrogations, alongside military investigators from the 56th Brigade. A lawyer who works for the government but did not want his department identified corroborated this allegation in an April interview with Human Rights Watch.
Three former detainees who spoke with Human Rights Watch between December and April gave credible accounts of what they said were their interactions with judicial investigators in Camp Honor prison. These allegations are consistent with judicial procedures known to have taken place there in the past. One detainee told Human Rights Watch in April that he had been held for over a month in Camp Honor prison, from late October to early December.
In a March interview, another man told Human Rights Watch he had been detained in Baghdad in early November and taken to a prison inside the Green Zone, which guards and other detainees told him was Camp Honor prison. His description and a sketch he made of the layout of the cells and interrogation trailers were consistent with the known layout of the facility.
Another detainee said in early December that he could confirm that he was in Camp Honor prison in May 2011 by the proximity of clearly recognizable surrounding buildings. When he was taken from the main holding facility to adjacent trailers for violent interrogations on three separate occasions, he said, he was not blindfolded. “The Defense Ministry and the old Council of Ministers [Hall] are right there,” he said. “I’m a former military man, and I used to work very close to there, so I knew right where I was.”
In July Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of a May 22,2011 letter written by the
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which said the ICRC had “collected
reliable allegations” of two separate secret detention facilities attached to Camp
Honor military base, plus another facility next to the headquarters of the Counter-
In the letter, the ICRC also documented the methods of torture used inside Camp Honor
prison and affiliated facilities, consistent with torture methods Human Rights Watch
had previously reported.The ICRC addressed the letter to Prime Minister al-
After the Los Angeles Times made public the letter’s existence on July 14, the ICRC
released a statement declining to confirm or deny its authenticity, as per long-
Two defense lawyers separately told Human Rights Watch in May 2012 that clients of theirs had been held in Camp Honor prison as recently as August 2011. Another lawyer told Human Rights Watch that while working at the Supreme Judicial Council over the past year he encountered frequent references in comments by judges and others, as well as in court paperwork, to prisoners being held in Camp Honor prison and in “two other prisons in the Green Zone also run by the 56th Brigade.” Four officials from the Defense and Justice ministries, plus two former officials, also told Human Rights Watch of the existence of these secret prisons, one also part of the Camp Honor complex, unofficially called “Five Stars,” and another outside the base, but still within the Green Zone.
Treatment of Detainees
Statements to Human Rights Watch by those captured in the roundups and detained in various prisons, including those run by the Justice Ministry, varied in describing the treatment they received. Some said they were not physically mistreated. Three people detained in the “Summit” dragnet told Human Rights Watch that security officers assured them that they just had to wait until the Arab Summit was over and they would be released – that holding them “was just a precautionary measure.” Others described multiple beatings and threats and some described abuse that amounts to torture.
In May, a 59-
He also said that during other interrogations his captors stripped him naked, hit him with wire cables, boxed his ears, poured cold water over him, and shocked him with electrodes attached to his back.
He was released in March, five months later, after his family paid over US $10,000 in bribes and an influential politician intervened on his behalf. Before leaving custody, he was forced to sign what he said was a confession, though he is not sure of its contents, as well as a pledge to never speak “against the government” and never to talk to the media about his arrest. “They told me that if I break any of these rules, they will bring in my sons and destroy them, and rape my wife,” he said. “As I left, they told me, ‘We will arrest you again, and make sure you’re executed.’”
Family members of detainees who spoke with Human Rights Watch said they had no idea where their loved ones were being held, despite multiple inquiries to the Ministry of Human Rights and the headquarters of the security forces that arrested them. In cases in which the government disclosed where prisoners were being held, security forces hindered or completely blocked detainees’ access to legal and family visits.
“On paper, a defendant can be defended by a lawyer, but in real life, it is next to impossible,” said a defense lawyer who is attempting to represent two men arrested in the “Summit” sweep in March. He told Human Rights Watch that when he is actually informed of the location of a detainee and allowed in, he is kept waiting for hours, and then told to go home because it is the end of the day. “Any lawyer attempting to see his client will be subjected to threats by the security forces holding the detainees,” the lawyer told Human Rights Watch. “Several times in the past few months, they said, ‘So, you want to represent a Baathist and a terrorist? I wonder what is making you do this, why you are on his side.’ This is clearly an attempt to intimidate attorneys from standing up for their victims.”
Families who tried to hire lawyers to defend relatives arrested in the “Baathist” sweep gave strikingly similar accounts. In December, one man told Human Rights Watch that his family went to four separate criminal defense lawyers who were at first cooperative. But when they learned that his father was taken in the “Baathist” arrests, he said, “each immediately told us that they could not interfere in this case because the arrests were by order of the prime minister’s office.” He cited one lawyer as saying: “This case is already decided. It’s a lost case, and I can’t be part of it, because they were arrested by the order of the prime minister.’”
“It is amazing that all four had the same reaction and this made us lose hope,” the family member said. “We did not try to get another lawyer, and have no idea where my father is.”