Reports of Torture in Iraq Dismay Human Rights and Peace Activists

By McElwee, Joshua J. | National Catholic Reporter, November 12, 2010 | Go to article overview

Reports of Torture in Iraq Dismay Human Rights and Peace Activists


McElwee, Joshua J., National Catholic Reporter


Peace and human rights activists have expressed anger and dismay in the wake of the leak of a new set of classified Iraq war documents indicating the continued abuse of detainees by both U.S. and Iraqi coalition forces.

The documents--together known as the "Iraq War Logs," comprising some 400,000 pages of classified military logs covering coalition forces' actions during nearly the entire length of the Iraq war--are the latest to be leaked by the international organization WikiLeaks, which released 90,000 documents on the Afghan war July 25.

Billed by that organization as "the largest classified military leak in history," the documents in the new leak were given to several international publications, with the first published Oct. 22 and others published since.

While the documents paint a grim picture of life on the ground in Iraq, covering a wide range of events, some of the most chilling reports contained within them concern abuse of detainees.

Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported Oct. 22 that many of the documents, which date from 2004 through 2009, describe U.S.-backed Iraqi forces shackling, blindfolding and hanging prisoners by wrists or ankles, and then subjecting them to whipping, punching, kicking or electric shocks. In interviews with NCR, several human rights activists said they thought the most important information to emerge from the newly released documents is that the use of torture has continued in Iraq, at least through 2009, the last year covered by the documents. They said torture seems to have been commonplace among Iraqi forces.

"One of the profound things we learned is that Iraqi security forces have been maintaining a large network of prisons and detainment facilities in which detainee abuse and torture is allegedly rife," said Jeremy Varon, associate professor of history at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Varon, who is an organizer with Witness Against Torture, an organization that has worked to expose and stop the use of torture in U.S. detention facilities, drew a harsh conclusion: "Americans got out of the Abu Ghraib business ... and the Iraqis did some of the same horrible things and worse to prisoners."

Dave Robinson, the executive director of Pax Christi USA, was similarly appalled, pointing to a contradiction in U.S. policy. He said the U.S. government tried to justify its invasion of Iraq, in part, as a means of protecting human rights, but that the documents reveal a continued disregard for human rights within the country. …

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