Treatment of detainees by Iraq's new security forces is horrifically bad, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. -- "Up to 60% of the estimated 12,000 detainees in the country's prisons and military compounds face intimidation, beatings, or torture that leads to broken bones and sometimes death, said Saad Sultan, head of a board overseeing the treatment of prisoners at the Human Rights Ministry," write Jeffrey Fleishman and Asmaa Waguih. -- Tactics "reminiscent of Saddam's secret intelligence squads" are rife. -- Another related article published the same day in the L.A. Times by Jeffrey Fleishman (and co-authored by Raheem Salman) is remarkable for its lyrical, literary quality. -- Fleishman and Salman go deeper than most accounts of the carnage in Iraq, and describe the plight of the the Tahir family, which belongs to the 600-year-old Bu Mohammed tribe and lives in Sadr City, the vast poor quarter of northeastern Baghdad. -- Two recent tragedies struck this family of Shiites. -- First, on May 3, a 25-year-old young man was killed by American gunfire as he drove by a police station in an incident of which U.S. military authorities say they have no record. -- He was on his way to buy clothes for his wedding. -- Then, less than a week later, six young men from the family were abducted, tortured, and killed in the Sunni-dominated Triangle of Death south of Baghdad, as they tried to drive the encoffined body of a family member to Najaf, to be burried. -- In a remarkable passage, Fleishman and Salman capture how this episode is described by those who live with, and how it is communicated and assimilated into their social life: "Khareem paused. Boys and young tribal men had gathered in a room off the courtyard. They leaned on and draped over one another; they sat cross-legged in the heat. This was a story that would be told for generations, the kind of story a boy hears and is shaped by, the way copper is shaped when it's hammered. The sheik nodded his head and gestured. Pictures taken in the morgue of the dead lying on metal gurneys appeared in his long hands. -- The first was Saad Jabber, 31, a newlywed with a bullet hole to the head. The next was Adnan Jlood, 34, a cigarette seller with eight children and a sliced chest, as if tortured. There was Walid Khaioon, 31, a telephone worker with four daughters, a newborn son and a shattered skull. Adel Jabber, 32, was next, a deaf and mute tribal carpenter whose eyes had been gouged out and whose mouth had been carved away. Hassam Humadi, 26, a government employee with a fiancee, had a neck wound. There was no picture of Mohammed Chwiser, 30, a photographer, killed with the others. . . . Iraq is a land of unfathomable reasons and dangerous maybes, but the sheik said he believes the killers were Sunni Muslims because they partially scraped the tattoo of the sword of Imam Ali off the arm of one of his nephews. Ali's sword is a revered symbol for Shiites. -- In recent weeks, sectarian violence has intensified as the minority Sunnis, the beneficiaries of Saddam Hussein's regime, are forced to accept a new government dominated by Shiites. The sheik said the streets brimmed with 'hatred and rancor.' He has tried to calm his tribe. It is better to be methodical than rash. There are two laws in Iraq -- civil and tribal. If one fails, justice is sought through the other. -- 'We won't retaliate just because we are Shiite and they are Sunni,' he said. 'But we will act according to tribal custom. If we find out which tribe did this, they must come to us and tell us who the murderers are. Their tribe must pay compensation to us. The murderers must be arrested. If these things don't happen, we will retaliate and we will kill four of theirs for every one of ours. This is the code.'" ...
The Conflict in Iraq
IRAQI SECURITY TACTICS EVOKE THE HUSSEIN ERA
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Asmaa Waguih
** Many detainees face beatings and some are killed. U.S. officials are troubled by the reports. **
Los Angeles Times
June 19, 2005
BAGHDAD -- The public war on the Iraqi insurgency has led to an atmosphere of hidden brutalities, including abuse and torture, carried out against detainees by the nation's special security forces, according to defense lawyers, international organizations, and Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights.
Up to 60% of the estimated 12,000 detainees in the country's prisons and military compounds face intimidation, beatings, or torture that leads to broken bones and sometimes death, said Saad Sultan, head of a board overseeing the treatment of prisoners at the Human Rights Ministry. He added that police and security forces attached to the Interior Ministry are responsible for most abuses.
The units have used tactics reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's secret intelligence squads, according to the ministry and independent human rights groups and lawyers, who have cataloged abuses.
"We've documented a lot of torture cases," said Sultan, whose committee is pushing for wider access to Iraqi-run prisons across the nation. "There are beatings, punching, electric shocks to the body, including sensitive areas, hanging prisoners upside down and beating them and dragging them on the ground. . . . Many police officers come from a culture of torture from their experiences over the last 35 years. Most of them worked during Saddam's regime."
The ordeal described by Hussam Guheithi is similar to many cases. When Iraqi national guardsmen raided his home last month, the 35-year-old Sunni Muslim imam said they lashed him with cables, broke his nose and promised to soak their uniforms with his blood. He was blindfolded and driven to a military base, where he was interrogated and beaten until the soldiers were satisfied that he wasn't an extremist.
At the end of nine days, Guheithi said, the guardsmen told him, "You have to bear with us. You know the situation now. We're trying to find terrorists."
The Interior Ministry, responsible for the nation's internal security, acknowledges cases of mistreatment but denies that torture is common. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is a Shiite Muslim, and some Sunni Muslim tribal leaders and politicians have accused the ministry of unfairly targeting Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency.
"There are no official accusations that the ministry's forces are carrying out widespread abuse and torture of detainees," said Col. Adnan Joubouri, a ministry spokesman. "There was some abuse of authority, and those officials responsible are being punished."
U.S. officials, whose image on detainment issues has already been tarnished by the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, say they are troubled by the allegations of torture. They worry that mistreatment by Iraqi police and national guardsmen, thousands of whom were trained by American instructors who sought to steer the departments away from Hussein's corrupt legacy, may be viewed as an extension of Abu Ghraib.
"We understand and we hear that [torture] is potentially happening, and this is an issue we are constantly talking about," said a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad. "I think this is an issue no one can afford to ignore."
Stories of torture and abuse against suspected Shiite and Sunni criminals and rebels are unfolding in the midst of the campaign against a relentless insurgency. Iraqi forces are frustrated by their inability to stop car bombings and ambushes that have killed more than 1,000 people in recent weeks.
Rising crime, a shaky court system, the lack of a constitution to define civil rights and an Interior Ministry underequipped to pursue well-armed rebel networks have made human rights less of an immediate concern for Iraqis than bringing order to the nation, Iraqi and U.S. officials say.
Having endured more than two years of violence since the U.S.-led invasion, many Iraqis favor tough measures to end the unrest. The death penalty was recently reinstated, and for much of the country there is an unspoken acceptance -- often rooted in harsh tribal justice -- that intimidation and torture serve a purpose. Such attitudes are complicated by sectarian strains between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
Under Hussein, the minority Sunnis were the core of the ruling Baath Party and controlled the country. The new Iraqi government is dominated by Shiites, who make up the majority of Iraq's population. Each side blames the other for the bloodshed. This dynamic poses an incendiary possibility: Accounts of torture in detention given by Sunni extremists might have been fabricated or embellished to help instigate a civil war against Shiites and the government. The Human Rights Ministry says it has encountered made-up allegations of abuse.
"Ninety percent of detainees say that they confessed under torture," said Judge Luqman Thabit Samiraii, head of the 1st Iraqi Central Criminal Court. "Yet 80% of them have no torture marks. But torture does exist during interrogations, I admit that."
The courts aren't always willing to explore abuse claims. In a trial last month, Samiraii denied a defense lawyer's request to have four suspects medically examined to determine whether their confessions to the murder of an Interior Ministry official had been induced by torture. The defendants, three of whom were sentenced to death, said they had been repeatedly beaten. One of them said police had sodomized him with a metal rod.
Before the four men appeared in the courtroom, their confessions had been aired on the popular Iraqi television program "Terrorism in the Hands of Justice." The show is the government's attempt to demystify the insurgency by portraying suspected rebels as brutish killers rather than revolutionaries. Defense lawyers argue that some of the accused are coerced into giving confessions and that the program violates defendants' right to a fair trial.
"The Americans are occupying the country, but the Iraqi national guard and Iraqi police are violating the human rights of detainees," said Sattar Raouf, director of the Popular Committee for Culture and Arts, who has followed allegations of abuse. "Intelligence and security forces are torturing people for confessions. You can go to the sixth and seventh floors of the Interior Ministry and find case after case like this."
The Interior and Justice ministries have been struggling over control of prisons and detention centers. Interior operates in a secret realm of intelligence networks in which suspects can be jailed or vanish for weeks. Sultan said his committee has found less abuse in centers under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry. He added that Justice has stricter oversight on inmate conditions and is less involved than Interior in interrogating suspects, including alleged insurgents.
A report this year by the international organization Human Rights Watch found that abuse had become "routine and commonplace" and that detainees were often beaten and held in violation of judicial process, including not receiving court hearings within 24 hours of their arrests. The group stated that some detainees -- many of whom are arrested based on tips by paid informants -- waited months before a court appearance.
"One of the most common complaints made by detainees," said Human Rights Watch, which interviewed 90 current and former detainees in 2004, "was of police officials threatening them with indefinite detention if they failed to pay them sums of money."
The abuses reported by former detainees and human rights organizations echo some of the Hussein regime's tactics: poor legal protection, crowded cells, electric shock, threats of sexual abuse, and hanging and beating prisoners for prolonged periods.
Abbas Jibouri said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that about 25 national guard members raided his house on the morning of May 8.
A 41-year-old farmer from the Maden area near Baghdad, Jibouri, whose account could not be verified, said he had been taken to a detainee center and later transferred to the national guard base at Rustumiya.
"There was always one man interrogating me and four or five others who punched me in different parts of my body," said Jibouri, a Sunni. "They accused me of providing terrorists with weapons and money. . . . They gave me a list of 10 names and told me to give information about their being terrorists. One of the names belonged to my brother and another was a neighbor of mine who actually died a year or so ago."
Jibouri said he was beaten with pipes and given electrical shocks. "I didn't know when it would end," he said.
At one point, Jibouri said, interrogators told him: "You [Sunnis] ruled the country for 35 years. We're going to retaliate now." Jibouri was released after 10 days in custody. He was not charged with a crime.
Guheithi, the Sunni imam, has been detained by American as well as Iraqi forces. He said U.S. troops had arrested him in January 2004 and accused him of preaching holy war at his mosque. He said he was held in solitary confinement for seven days and released. American soldiers, he said, "didn't torture me, but an Iraqi man with them punched me hard several times."
Last month, Iraqi national guardsmen handcuffed Guheithi at the home of his brother in the Rasafa neighborhood of Baghdad.
"They were beating me and my brothers in front of our children," he said. "They told me that I was helping the insurgents by sending trucks to Fallouja during the first [anti-insurgent] offensive in April 2004. They had piles of reports about me. I was actually only sending humanitarian aid to the people there, which I gathered from our mosque."
He said he was held for nine days in the Taji camp, which is used by U.S. and Iraqi forces.
"I stayed there with 19 other people in a very small room with no windows," said Guheithi, who added that he was often blindfolded and beaten. "When they found that we had no information, they set us free. . . . I and other detainees about to be released had to swear that we were not terrorists and that we are going to participate in building a democratic country."
--Times staff writer Carol J. Williams contributed to this report.
TWO KINDS OF TRAGEDY
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Raheem Salman
** Within a week, one family in Baghdad experienced both the random and the targeted violence that plague Iraq today. **
Los Angeles Times
June 19, 2005
BAGHDAD -- It seems these violent days need more prayers than hours can hold, but the old man prays anyway, raising his hands and closing his eyes, whispering verse as the tribal boys watch from the dusty courtyard.
They know what Mohammed Mousa Tahir prays about. They have heard the low moan of his voice, like wind through a field. Tahir says U.S. troops shot his son in a car on an overpass. He buried the boy, and then, a few days later, word came through the littered streets of his neighborhood: Six nephews and cousins had been slain and mutilated and left along a road by unknown attackers.
"The Americans killed my son, but if they come to my house, I will tell them: 'Peace be upon you,' " said Tahir, a Shiite tribal elder, basing his account on unconfirmed reports. "I only want the Americans to help my society and stop this war. I must be patient. I don't know exactly what happened to my son. I just know I waited for him to return home, but he did not come."
Bloodshed in Iraq is both calculated and indiscriminate. The unluckiest are caught in explosions and insurgent ambushes. Others, like Tahir's cousins and nephews, are killed over religious and tribal loyalties. And then there are the ones like his son, Haithem, a 25-year-old Baghdad University student heading east on a highway toward a military convoy in a jittery city, the kind of place where the hands of suicide bombers are found duct-taped to steering wheels.
In the space of six days in May, the Tahir family became another casualty of the violence that has killed more than 1,000 Iraqis in recent weeks. The country has fallen into a grisly rhythm where a trip to the market or the mosque can end in a burst of fire.
The Tahirs belong to the Bu Mohammed tribe and live in the slum of Sadr City in northeast Baghdad. Tahir's brother, Sheik Faisel Khareem, is the neighborhood's tribal leader. A middle-aged man with a gray-black beard and silver-rimmed glasses, he mediates disputes between families and has more than once been called into negotiations with American forces.
U.S. troops don't like to linger here; Sadr City can be a labyrinth of murmured prayers and meanness. May 3 was like most days: horse-drawn wagons clattered past, trash whirled, sheep fought the butcher's knife and boys with bent saws and wet feet sold block ice on the corners. Haithem Tahir, an Arabic language major, was in a friend's Mercedes heading toward an overpass on Mohammed al Qasim highway, a dirty ribbon slicing through Baghdad.
Haithem and the driver, Wisam Abdul-Jalil Sadoon, a 27-year-old father of four, were on a midday shopping trip to buy Haithem clothes for his upcoming wedding, family members said. Shortly before 3 p.m. the car skimmed past the Bab al Sheik police station about two miles from the young men's neighborhood. Tahir, informed by bystanders at the scene, told police the car had slowed or stopped near an on-ramp when an American convoy opened fire.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which patrols Baghdad, said it had no report of the shooting. The highway is also frequented by well-armed SUVs driven by loosely regulated private security contractors.
Two men who claimed to have witnessed the incident said gunshots rang out from an American patrol that had passed Haithem's car. The Mercedes swerved, went through a guardrail, plummeted 20 feet and landed on its roof below the overpass on a street of scrap dealers and mechanics shops. One witness was Abdul Amir, a welding supervisor.
"I was standing [about 200 feet] from the place where the car crashed," Amir said. "I heard two bullets, and from the sound I recognized that they were coming from an American machine gun. I looked at the highway and I saw a white GMC Suburban with tinted windows and three Humvees. The soldier behind the machine gun shot two bullets and then a spray of five or six bullets. . . . The Americans did not stop."
By early evening, Haithem had not come home and the family was worried. Tahir's second son called Haithem's cellphone. A doctor answered. He told the family to hurry. By the time they arrived, Haithem was dead. Tahir was handed a death certificate and an English exam that had been found in the car. Sadoon survived but still slides in and out of consciousness.
Dr. Qussai Hussein performed the autopsy on Haithem.
"There were three bullet wounds, two to the head each with an entrance of [three-fifths of an inch] and an exit of [four-fifths of an inch]. There was another wound to the left ankle with an entrance of [four-fifths of an inch] and an exit of [1.2 inches]," he said. "Unfortunately, no bullets were found and we cannot determine the source of the bullets."
Days after Haithem's body was washed and wrapped in cloth, death would again come to the Tahir family. A tribal member, Jabber Tahir, died of natural causes about 3 a.m. on May 9. Khareem, the clan leader, called for a coffin from the local mosque and summoned six of his young cousins and nephews and four family elders. The men lifted Jabber and tied the coffin to the roof of a minibus heading toward Najaf, the holy city where Shiites prefer to be buried.
The bus didn't get far. It was stopped at a roadblock in Latifiya, on Baghdad's southern rim.
"Dirty, armed men surrounded them," Khareem said, basing his account on police reports, photographs and the elders who had survived the attack. "They opened the door and raised their weapons as if ready to fire. One of them took the driver's ID card and put it in his pocket. The others stood near the bus, and two more waited in the distance with rocket-propelled grenades."
The four elders were ordered to leave the bus. As they stood on the pavement, one of the assailants jumped into the driver's seat and drove away with the six young men, followed by the other attackers. The elders hurried to an Iraqi police post. Radio calls went out and a search began. Three hours later, the body of Jabber and his battered coffin were found bobbing in a stream. Police handed the remains to the elders but said the young men had vanished.
The next morning, Khareem said, the elders, most of them the fathers of the missing men, returned to the police station. They were told to go to a nearby hospital, where overnight six men had been delivered to the morgue. The elders saw the bodies, studied the gashed and bruised faces, but were unsure whether they belonged to their sons and relatives.
"The faces looked familiar, but the bodies were dressed in camouflage fatigues worn by the Iraqi national guards," Khareem said. "So the elders said, 'These can't be our sons.' They went back to the police station, but the police told them to return to the hospital and double-check. You can understand they didn't want to go back. They didn't want to know. But they went, and they studied the faces again and inspected signs on the body, including a tattoo of the sword of the Imam Ali, the cousin of the prophet Muhammad.
"Then they knew."
Khareem paused. Boys and young tribal men had gathered in a room off the courtyard. They leaned on and draped over one another; they sat cross-legged in the heat. This was a story that would be told for generations, the kind of story a boy hears and is shaped by, the way copper is shaped when it's hammered. The sheik nodded his head and gestured. Pictures taken in the morgue of the dead lying on metal gurneys appeared in his long hands.
The first was Saad Jabber, 31, a newlywed with a bullet hole to the head. The next was Adnan Jlood, 34, a cigarette seller with eight children and a sliced chest, as if tortured. There was Walid Khaioon, 31, a telephone worker with four daughters, a newborn son and a shattered skull. Adel Jabber, 32, was next, a deaf and mute tribal carpenter whose eyes had been gouged out and whose mouth had been carved away. Hassam Humadi, 26, a government employee with a fiancee, had a neck wound. There was no picture of Mohammed Chwiser, 30, a photographer, killed with the others.
None of the men were in the national guard, but their bodies were dressed in desert fatigues. The sheik suspects that the killers made it look as if they had ambushed a military unit to impress their leaders. Or maybe they were contract mercenaries paid more for killing a soldier, or maybe there was some other reason.
Iraq is a land of unfathomable reasons and dangerous maybes, but the sheik said he believes the killers were Sunni Muslims because they partially scraped the tattoo of the sword of Imam Ali off the arm of one of his nephews. Ali's sword is a revered symbol for Shiites.
In recent weeks, sectarian violence has intensified as the minority Sunnis, the beneficiaries of Saddam Hussein's regime, are forced to accept a new government dominated by Shiites. The sheik said the streets brimmed with "hatred and rancor." He has tried to calm his tribe. It is better to be methodical than rash. There are two laws in Iraq -- civil and tribal. If one fails, justice is sought through the other.
"We won't retaliate just because we are Shiite and they are Sunni," he said. "But we will act according to tribal custom. If we find out which tribe did this, they must come to us and tell us who the murderers are. Their tribe must pay compensation to us. The murderers must be arrested. If these things don't happen, we will retaliate and we will kill four of theirs for every one of ours. This is the code."
Khareem let the image linger, let it seep into the minds of the young boys sitting around him on the carpet. The call to prayer warbled through the courtyard. Tahir, the death certificate of his son snug in his pocket, removed his headdress and lifted his arms. Reciting verse, he seemed to gather light in his hands. Then he knelt, closed his eyes and pushed the world away. Minutes later, the sheik nodded. Some of the boys rushed out. A plastic cloth was thrown on the floor. Plates appeared. Then rice and chicken. The sheik, Tahir and the other men ate. The boys waited, and the pictures of the dead men were folded away.
The sheik had another story, a tale capturing the lyricism and brutality of this land. Bu Mohammed, a Sunni living in Baqubah, founded the sheik's tribe more than 600 years ago. He had killed his brother and fled south to Amara, where he converted to the Shiite sect. The Shiites tricked him, however, offering him a beautiful wife but giving him an ugly one on his wedding day. Outraged, he sought vengeance. But his mother told him to accept fate, that there were more swords against him than with him.
One night, the new wife dreamed that seven bees flew from her womb. Bu Mohammed's mother, a mystic, was pleased and decided that the bees represented the leaders of the clans that would one day make up the tribe.
The sheik likes this story, his voice resonating over syllables he lets expand and others he pulls tight. The boys smiled at the magic of such a beginning.
--Times staff writer Caesar Ahmed contributed to this report.