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Tortured Iraqis confess to crimes they didn't commit

Tortured Iraqis confess to crimes they didn't commit

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Politics Public Liberties Basic Rights

Wednesday 14 June 202304:42 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

عراقيون أبرياء يعترفون تحت التعذيب بجرائم لم يَرتكِبوها


Despite migrating to Turkey with his family and settling in the province of Bolu over six years ago, the nightmares of prison still haunt 53-year-old M. K. A., nicknamed Abu Muram. The traces of torture are still evident on various parts of his body, with a permanent disability in his right leg that has rendered him unable to walk straight.

He used to work as a truck driver for a construction company in Musayyib, Babil Governorate. In mid-2007, it so happened that two of its senior employees were abducted, and a group of employees in the company was accused of their kidnapping, Abu Muram included.

He crosses his arms together as a sign of his arrest, "A military force raided my house and terrified my family. They put handcuffs on me and handed me over to the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) in Al-Azamiyah. I remained there in a small cell, one and a half meters long and 75 centimeters wide. I would only leave it to go to the interrogation room, where I would be subjected to daily torture with whips, clubs, and kicking. This would usually start after midnight."

He strokes his white beard with his hand, pointing to his right leg, and says with a sad tone, "The nerve in my leg was damaged due to the brutal and severe beatings to extract a confession for a crime I did not commit, and that is why I now limp when I walk."

He claps his hands together as he recalls, "They would torture me for weeks without getting the confessions they wanted, then they would present me to the investigating judge, who would in turn request a re-investigation, meaning a return to the torture room. Finally, I signed a pre-written paper stating that I participated in the kidnapping and killing of the employees after taking a financial ransom from their families."

He was convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison in late 2009. After about five years, the real perpetrators of the kidnapping and murder of the company's employees were apprehended, and Abu Muram was re-tried in the Central Criminal Court in Baghdad, the third chamber, which decided to release him due to insufficient evidence on March 9, 2015.

However he was not released immediately but rather was transferred from one prison to another until 2017. "They wanted to check whether I was accused of other cases," he says, then, raising two fingers, he continues with cynicism, "Eight years of unjust imprisonment was not enough for them. They needed an additional two years."

...

After his release, there was another prison awaiting Abu Muram, but this time it was outside the walls. He says that the acquittal verdict was not enough because society had already labeled him as a terrorist, and even some of his relatives treated him with suspicion. Therefore, he decided to leave the country with his family and search for a place where they could live "in peace". Tears gather in his eyes as he adds, "This is all I want now: to live in safety and peace, far away from injustice."

Hundreds of innocent individuals are arrested and forced to confess under torture, remaining in prison for many years. Later, the same law that they were arrested under proves their innocence of the charges against them, but they're not compensated in any way

The innocent kept behind bars

The story of Abu Muram, in many of its details, resembles the stories of thousands of Iraqis who have been detained since 2003 based on unconfirmed suspicions or tips from "secret informants", or simply due to mistaken identity. Many of them have received judicial sentences ranging from imprisonment to execution for crimes they did not commit.

Shwan Saber Mustafa, the head of the Justice Network for Prisoners (JNP) in Iraq, holds the judicial and governmental authorities responsible for what he describes as violations committed against detainees during interrogations, "in order to extract confessions from them by force." He also holds the governments of Baghdad and the Kurdistan Region responsible for the weakness of investigative agencies.

He states, "Developed countries do not harm their people, and the accused are confronted with solid evidence based on modern techniques for collecting evidence. In Iraq, the lack of capabilities in this regard is compensated for by physical torture!"

Iraq had issued Law No. 30 of 2008, which adhered to the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and entered into force on June 26, 1987.

As for Shwan, he confirms that many detainees and prisoners have spoken about physical assaults and significant psychological pressures they have experienced in detention centers and prisons. He says the executive bodies, represented by the Ministries of Interior and Justice, "cram eighty individuals into a detention room that does not exceed four square meters and provide them with the worst types of food. Additionally, the accused are sometimes kept for years without trial or even investigation."

Shwan accuses undisclosed state-affiliated entities of using the 'secret informant' method to seek revenge against their enemies and eliminate them. He believes that the best solution at present to reduce these violations is to "allow lawyers to accompany the accused during the interrogation process to ensure they are not subjected to torture, until laws respecting human rights and treating the accused as innocent until proven guilty are implemented. After that, punishment should be carried out in accordance with the law."

According to the spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, Kamel Amin, the number of prisoners in Iraq exceeds 60,000, distributed in central reform prisons and transfer facilities, all of which share one characteristic: overcrowding.

Legal advisor and political analyst Safaa Al-Lami says that hundreds of those whom he describes as innocent "are arrested and forced to confess under torture, and they remain in prisons for many years. Later, the same law that they were arrested under proves their innocence of the charges against them, but they are not compensated in any way or form."

Al-Lami believes that Iraq needs legal legislation to give proper restitution to those who are detained and their innocence is later proven, and then compensate them for the damages they have suffered as a result. He adds, "Or at least the implementation of an old decision that was issued by the dissolved Revolutionary Command Council, according to which those who were arrested by mistake or the families of those sentenced to death were compensated and their innocence is proven."

"I was kept in a small cell, and would only leave it to go to the interrogation room, where I would be subjected to daily torture with whips, clubs, and beatings to extract a confession for a crime I did not commit. This would usually start after midnight"

Confessions extracted by force

The United Nations Mission in Iraq issued a report in October 2021 confirming the dire conditions in Iraqi detention facilities. It stated that "interrogations conducted by security forces generally aim to extract confessions and often rely on coercion, including torture, while access to lawyers is systematically delayed until after the suspects have been interrogated."

The report presents horrifying testimonies about torture in Iraqi prisons, and quotes Danielle Bell, Chief of the Human Rights Office at UNAMI–United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, as saying that "the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights seeks to move beyonddebating the existence or extent of these practices and instead focus on supporting Government efforts to strengthen compliance with the international and national legal framework."

Danielle stated, "The ultimate goal is to reduce the likelihood of torture or ill-treatment ever occurring," emphasizing that independent monitoring of places of detention is crucial in this process. She added, "As torture almost always takes place in secret, greater transparency and openness concerning what takes place in detention facilities, which includes access by independent monitoring bodies, are significant steps towards preventing torture."

She further stated, "These measures not only remove opportunities for torture to occur but also protect authorities from unfounded allegations."

Unfortunately, nothing substantial has changed since the release of the UN report. Lawyer Layla Qais Al-Karkhi says, "Investigating officers are flagrantly violating the law, and innocent people are paying a high price for it. Additionally, political parties interfere in court decisions and appoint incompetent judges who support them."

She explains that she turns to the media to shed light on the problems surrounding investigative procedures and the treatment of detainees or convicts, hoping to draw the attention of relevant authorities.

The legally prescribed procedures to be followed during investigations are as follows: "The suspect should be detained for only one week for investigation. If the investigators do not reach any results, the investigating judge may extend the detention for another week, and so on until the investigation is completed and its results are presented to the competent judge to settle the case."

"But this doesn't happen in practice," says the lawyer, adding, "Investigating judges rely on secret informants who provide them with reports. If the charge is terrorism or drug trafficking, an arrest warrant can be issued without notification or summons. The accused is then placed in designated detention facilities, such as 'Muthanna Airport,' and the investigation periods extend for long periods."

She confirms that there is no law holding the secret informant accountable if it is proven that they have provided false reports. The reason behind this, she explains, is that "the judiciary conceals their identity for fear of personal vendettas, and because investigators rely on their information as it concerns national security."

"They subjected us to various forms of physical and psychological torture to extract a confession from us. They'd hang us from our arms for hours, until our shoulders are dislocated, and then beat us with electric batons and whips and douse us with cold water"

G. F., a 45-year-old programming engineer who manages a computer maintenance workshop in central Baghdad, was accused of killing his father in 2020. According to his account, his family members had traveled outside Baghdad in July 2020, and he remained with his father at home for several days. One day, he spent his usual day at work and returned home at the end of it with a friend, only to find the external door locked in an unusual manner. Inside, they discovered his father dead, covered in his own blood.

After the three days of mourning, he was surprised to find police officers arresting him and his friend, accusing them of murder, even though none of his family members had filed a complaint against him, according to his retelling. He says, "They checked our mobile phones, listened to witnesses, and subjected us to various forms of physical and psychological torture for six months in an attempt to extract a confession from us."

He places his right hand on his left shoulder and recounts one of the torture methods used against him, "They would tie us from our hands to the ceiling for hours, until our shoulders become dislocated, and then they beat us with electric batons and whips and douse us with cold water."

The man couldn't withstand the torture and falsely confessed after six months that he was the one who killed his father, and that his friend was unaware of it. He claimed that he brought his friend to the house to act as a witness in his favor in case he was accused. He was referred to the competent judge, who sentenced him to life imprisonment, and his friend was released.

Months after the verdict was issued, and after relentless efforts by his family, who paid large sums of money to lawyers, they discovered surveillance footage from a neighbor that captured a tall masked person hurriedly leaving the house on the day of the incident, accompanied by a woman. A witness from the neighborhood confirmed this. As a result, the verdict was overturned, and he was released.

Primitive investigation methods

In September 2021, media in Iraq reported news about a criminal case involving a supposed criminal named Ali Al-Jubouri. Ali, 30, is an army member from Babil Governorate, south of Baghdad, was accused of killing his wife. The police presented his confession, where he explained how he committed the murder, staged the crime scene, and threw the body into the Tigris River. He was sentenced to death according to Article 406 of Penal Law No. 111 of 1969.

Before the execution of the sentence, the wife, who had been hiding from her family in an undisclosed location, turned up. According to a legal source in Babil, her guilty conscience alerted her that her husband was going to be executed because of her, and she summarized the details of the case by saying: They went to visit a religious shrine in Karbala on April 12, 2021. Due to the privacy of such places, the entrance for men is separate from the entrance for women. The wife disappeared after passing through the gate and completely vanished, despite the husband's weeks-long search for her and filing a report about her disappearance since the first day at the police station in Al-Siddah.

In mid-July 2021, the husband, Ali, was arrested based on a complaint filed by the wife's family accusing him of her murder. After a few days, he confessed under torture that he was the one who killed her. However, the subsequent appearance of the wife and the evidence of his innocence led to public scrutiny of the story as evidence of citizens being subjected to torture in Iraqi prisons to extract confessions from them. Calls for a complete overhaul of the investigation system began.

The man couldn't withstand the torture and falsely confessed after six months that he committed the crime. Months later, his family discovered surveillance footage from a neighbor showing a tall masked man escaping the premises, and the verdict was overturned

Under public pressure, former Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimy appeared in a televised interview, listening to the account of Ali Al-Jubouri, who was accompanied by his father. He was also seen listening to judicial investigators, one of whom stated that the judge emphasized the need to resolve the case due to public opinion.


In a rare admission by a senior Iraqi official, Prime Minister Al-Kadhimy acknowledged the presence of innocent people in Iraqi prisons. He stated, "The state has many problems due to the interference of some, and corruption exists, not to mention the presence of unfit individuals in positions of authority, and these problems have led to innocent people becoming victims."

However, he tried to absolve his government ministries of full responsibility, stating, "The incompetent officers represent themselves in the Ministry of Interior, not the ministry itself. They follow their own demons without any humanity in extracting confessions from the accused."

Legal advisor Safaa Al-Lami also argues that this case demonstrates that "Iraq uses primitive investigation methods that other countries have abandoned decades ago, including extracting confessions by force and torture." He sadly adds, "The major problem lies in relying on secret informants who act as the eyes of the state, planted among the population to receive reports, some of which include malicious accusations. As a result, we find many innocent people in prisons."


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