Monday, August 20, 2007

Iraqi prisoners kept in wire cages, August 19, 2007

By Waleed Ibrahim And Peter Graff in Baghdad

Article from: Reuters

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IRAQ'S Sunni Arab vice president promised better treatment for detainees today and released pictures from inside a Baghdad prison camp that showed hundreds of inmates packed into tented wire-mesh cages.

The rare video pictures from inside an Iraqi prison were released by the office of Sunni Arab vice president Tareq al-Hashemi, who visited the Rusafa prison compound in eastern Baghdad with his Shiite counterpart.

The footage showed row upon row of outdoor tents made of wire mesh and covered with white plastic sheeting, each about the size of a basketball court and housing dozens of inmates.

Prisoners, some stripped to their waists, pressed up against the mesh walls and shouted their innocence.

Some chanted Saddam-era Iraqi nationalist slogans.

“I have been jailed for two years and have never been put before a judge or court!” shouted one prisoner.

“We are not asking for food or water. Just free us. We have committed no crimes!” said another.

Mr Hashemi told the prisoners that the authorities were working to speed up their cases.

“We will not accept this injustice. It is a shame on all of us. Be patient,” he said.

“All of your cases will be heard.”

At one point he added: “You are lucky to be here. At least you have security.

"Those outside do not even have security.”

US forces and Iraq's own security forces have imprisoned tens of thousands of detainees without charge in the four years since the fall of President Saddam Hussein.

Many of the prisoners held by both US and Iraqi authorities are Sunni Arabs accused of participating in the insurgency against the Shiite-led Government, and their treatment is an emotional issue for the Sunni Arab community.

The director of the prison visited by Mr Hashemi, Major-General Jumah Hussein, told Reuters by telephone that the tented camp was opened a month ago to relieve overcrowding at prisons throughout Iraq, and the complex now held 2779 prisoners.

He said the tents were built “according to international standards”, with air conditioning and 24-hour electricity.

“The prisoners arrived just a month ago," he said.

"It is not our fault that some have been held for a year or two years without their cases going before a judge.

"We are drawing up lists of all the prisoners and will put all their cases before a court."

The US military says it is now holding 23,000 Iraqis, 19,000 of them at Camp Bucca, a giant prison camp in southern Iraq.

Washington says its own prisoners are covered by UN Security Council resolutions which allow its forces to hold them without charge as long as they are deemed a threat.

Although US forces are not responsible for prisoners held by Iraqi authorities, “we encourage them to treat their prisoners with as much respect as is seen in the West,” said US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver.

The Shiite-run Interior Ministry was criticised over the treatment of detainees in 2005 after US forces said they discovered secret cells in which detainees had been tortured.

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