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Torture in Iraq Continues, Unabated



by Amy Goodman

Combat operations in Iraq are over, if you believe President Barack
Obama’s rhetoric. But torture in Iraq’s prisons, first exposed during
the Abu Ghraib scandal, is thriving, increasingly distant from any
scrutiny or accountability. After arresting tens of thousands of
Iraqis, often without charge, and holding many for years without
trial, the United States has handed over control of Iraqi prisons, and
10,000 prisoners, to the Iraqi government. Meet the new boss, same as
the old boss.

After landing in London late Saturday night, we traveled to the small
suburb of Kilburn to speak with Rabiha al-Qassab, an Iraqi refugee who
was granted political asylum in Britain after her brother was executed
by Saddam Hussein. Her husband, 68-year-old Ramze Shihab Ahmed, was a
general in the Iraqi army under Saddam, fought in the Iran-Iraq War
and was part of a failed plot to overthrow the Iraqi dictator. The
couple was living peacefully for years in London, until September
2009.

It was then that Ramze Ahmed learned his son, Omar, had been arrested
in Mosul, Iraq. Ahmed returned to Iraq to find him and was arrested
himself.

For months, Rabiha didn’t know what had become of her husband. Then,
on March 28, her cell phone rang. “I don’t know the voice,” she told
me.

“I said, ‘Who are you?’ He said he is very sick ... he said, ‘Me,
Ramze, Ramze. Call embassy.’ And they took the mobile, and they stop
talking."

Ramze Ahmed was being held in a secret prison at the old Muthanna
Airport in Baghdad. A recent report from Amnesty International, titled
“New Order, Same Abuses,” describes Muthanna as “one of the harshest”
prisons in Iraq, the scene of extensive torture and under the control
of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

As Rabiha showed me family photos, a piece of paper with English and
Arabic words slipped out. Rabiha explained that in order to describe
in English what happened to her husband, she had to consult a
dictionary, since she had never used several of the English words:
“Rape.” “Stick.” “Torture.” She wept as she described his account of
being sodomized with a stick, suffocated repeatedly with plastic bags
placed over his head, and shocked with electricity.

Not surprisingly, as detailed in the Amnesty report, the Iraqi
government said that Ramze Shihab Ahmed had confessed to links to
al-Qaida in Iraq. In a January 2010 press conference organized by the
Iraqi Ministry of Defense, videotapes were played showing nine others
confessing to crimes, including Ahmed’s son, Omar, who, showing signs
of beatings, confessed to “the killing of several Christians in Mosul
and the detonation of a bomb in a village near Mosul.”

Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and
North Africa program, told me in London, “there’s a culture of abuse
[in Iraq] that has taken root. It was certainly there during the days
of Saddam Hussein, but what we wanted to see from 2003 was a turning
of the page, and that hasn’t happened. So we see secret prisons,
people being tortured and ill-treated, being forced to make
confessions ... the perpetrators are not being held to account.
They’re not being identified.”

After that brief, interrupted phone call that Rabiha received from her
husband, she did call the British government, and its embassy in Iraq
tracked Ahmed down in al-Rusafa prison in Baghdad. Normally with a
cane, they found him in a wheelchair. Rabiha has a photo of him taken
by the British representative.

Amnesty reports that there are an estimated 30,000 prisoners in Iraq
(200 remaining under U.S. control). The condition and treatment of the
Iraqi prisoners is considered by the U.S. to be, Smart says, “an Iraqi
issue.” But with the U.S. continuing to pour billions of dollars into
its ongoing military presence there, and to fund the Iraqi government,
the treatment of prisoners is clearly a U.S. issue as well. Amnesty
has launched a grass-roots campaign to spur further action to secure
Ahmed’s release.

Meanwhile, Rabiha al-Qassab, isolated and alone in north London,
spends time feeding the ducks in a local park, which her husband used
to do.

She told me: “I talk with the ducks. I say, ‘You remember the man who
gave you the food? He is in a prison. Ask God to help him.’ “

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
© 2010 Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of "Democracy Now!," a daily international
TV/radio news hour airing on 800 stations in North America. She was
awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative
Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in
December
22 wrzesień 2010

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