Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The prisoner abuse in Iraq

On a visit to the women's prison inside Baghdad's al-Rusafa complex on 9 November UNAMI noted severe overcrowding, inadequate ventilation and the poor standard in general living conditions.
Through various visits to detention centres and prisons, UNAMI found evidence that detainees and prisoners had been threatened with beatings if they raised concerns with UN staff. Overcrowding was seen to be a major problem in many facilities. UNAMI obtained information that some prisoners would be removed from their cells before the arrival of UNAMI in order to prevent them from being seen, in particular detainees who had visible marks of torture or abuse. Furthermore, UNAMI obtained evidence that torture and ill treatment routinely takes place at the time of arrest and while in detention. UNAMI staff seeing marks on some prisoners and detainees were threated with the death or rape of their female family members if they refused to sign confessions. Evidence gathered by UNAMI indicated that some detainees had been held for long periods of time -- some up to two years -- without being told of the charges against them and without access to family members, lawyers, or the courts. Conditions within facilities were often observed to be cramped, with no natural light, and no ventilation. Often there are no toilets in the cells, prisoners being let out intermittently to relieve themselves -- adding to the unhygienic condition of the facilities.
UNAMI had information that on some visits prisoners would be removed from cells and concealed by the authorities to give the impression that over-crowding had been resolved but also to remove from view prisoners who had signs of physical injury. It was observed that prisoners and detainees were often not provided with adequate food, sometimes only being fed a handful of dates on some days, and many showed skin disorders caused from unhygienic conditions. More significantly, there was substantial evidence that prisoners and detainees had been physically mistreated and beaten following previous visits by UNAMI in order to comple them to disclose the nature and substance of their discussions with UNAMI. Further visits to detention centres in Baghdad, were suspended from mid December 2010 until unfettered, private access is permited by the authorities to the inmates, and satisfactory guarantees have been given by the Government of Iraq that prisoners will not be harmed as a result of such visits which UNAMI is able to verify. Visits had not resumed by the end of the year.

At the start of the week, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released [PDF format warning] "2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq." It's a major report and we're covering each day this week in the snapshots (and covered prisons -- including the above excerpt -- in yesterday's snapshot with women and Iraq's LBGT community covered in Monday's snapshot). Yesterday's snapshot prompted a great deal of e-mails about "Why did the US support Nouri?" Because it's never been about peace in Iraq or improving Iraqi lives. It was about the US government ensuring US goals were met. Thugs were put in charge not because the US government thought they were innocent and sweet but because they wanted the Iraqi people too scared and frightened to be able to fight back. That attitude's never changed, regardless of who or which party occupied the White House. The UN report one is a major one. If you've read Amnesty Internation's Iraq reports or Human Rights Watch's over the last years, you're not surprisedby the information but you are surprised that the US made the decision to back Nouri throughout Political Stalemate I when the smart thing would have been to drop the support (for any number of reasons including the fact that his slate came in second and you wanted to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that, yes, their votes do matter). In 2009, Nouri agreed to keep US troops in Iraq beyond 2011. He did so on his August visit that year. Which is why he was making the statements that the (very few in the) press found so shocking. But that's when the deal was made and today it's just about working out the details.

Because he'd make that promise, no one was overly concerned with what he did to the Iraqi people. His actions are criminal. He is responsible for the conditions in the Iraqi prisons. UPI noted the report (briefly) yesterday. Presumably, the New York Times and other US outlets allegedly interested in human rights are ignoring the report because there's a deal to seal and can't have Americans getting upset about the New Saddam until after the deal is rammed through. Or maybe it's just that the report refutes all the claims (lies) of an 'improved' Iraq that so many have been selling for so long?

Denis Foynes filed a report yesterday for IPS and it's a mess:

While there have been improvements in some areas of human rights, many challenges remain and some areas were actually worse off in 2010 than previous war-torn years.
"Particularly women's rights levels and standards have gone down. They suffer from widespread violence, especially from domestic violence," Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IPS.
"There is little legislation to prevent this from occurring and the criminal code in Iraq almost encourages these crimes. There needs to be laws in the region against domestic violence," Colville said.

If you're going to cover the report, you need to read it. If Foynes had read it, the above would not have been written about domestic violence. This is not a "more legislation issue" -- domestic violence. You can argue it's needed that one law be taken off the books. From Monday's snapshot:

The report notes that paragraph 41 of the Iraqi Penal Code needs to be repealed. This section (me, not the report which is too weakly worded here) legalizes domestic abuse. There's no way around it, that's what it does. When you say the a "legal right" is "punishment of a wife by her husband," that is legalizing domestic abuse and it can't be prettied up and it shouldn't be. That this was written in while Iraq was occupied demonstrates not only the thug exiles disdain for women but also the US government's.

Foynes doesn't write as if the report's been read. There are a ton of laws and treaties that guarantee Iraqi women's rights. These are all gone over in the report.

Big surprise, a spokesperson soft-peddled the report. The report could have come out a week and a half sooner. It didn't because there has been huge internal debates about what would and wouldn't go into the report. For over a month and a half now.

If you're going to speak to a spokesperson about the report, you really need to have read it so that when it's watered-down in comments, you can say, "No, the reports says . . ."

This is a major report and a real internal struggle went down over how hard it would hit. The report is not served by IPS publishing stupid articles by writers who haven't read the report. Again, there a ton of laws guaranteeing women's rights in Iraq. That's not the issue. Anyone who read the report should have grasped that. Again, from Monday's snapshot:

The report notes that women have seen continued attacks on their rights: "Respect for women's rights deteriorated in some ways in 2010. While quotas ensured women were elected to the CoR in the general election in March, only one woman was appointed to a cabinet post by the end of 2010 following a prolonged period of government formation. [. . .] Sections of the Iraq Criminal Penal Code, which encourage honour crimes, remain in place, and there is still no law dealing with domestic violence." The report notes that Iraq is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (click here to read the UN contract) whose Article 3 and Article 26 cover the equal rights of women. In addition, the government signed onto the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In addition, Article 14 and Article 16 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees equal rights while "Article 37 prohibits forced labour, slavery trafficking in women or children and enforced prostitution."

Foynes betrays all the hard work that went into the report and that went into making the report so important by refusing to read the work and instead printing airy little statements from a spokesperson.

A realistic picture of Iraq is presented in the UN report. It's a real shame that there's so little interest in reality and in what life is like for Iraqis.

Michael S. Schmidt, Duraid Adnan and Yasir Ghazi (New York Times' At War blog) cover Iraqi reaction to the release of War Criminal Charles Graner:

"This is a scandal of American justice,” said Mo'ead Qasim, 34, of Baghdad. "I still remember the photos of the naked Iraqi prisoners. They humiliated the Iraqis in a bad way, and this is what they give us in return? I thought that the man who did this awful thing was going to be locked up for many years."
Khalid Muhammed, a 48-year-old businessman from Baghdad, said that the release of Mr. Graner proved that Americans "do not care about the blood of Iraqis."
"This is a good thing because it shows who they really are, and this will make it clear to whoever supports the Americans that they should stop believing in them, especially those who think that the Americans have saved us," he said.

An e-mail asked about the article and shouldn't it have run sooner? A better question is why it's only a blog entry and not an article. (Read the entry, it's clearly an article -- and a strong one -- which the paper didn't have room for -- making the Miss Rona column yesterday all the more distressing.) It's noted that interviews were done on Sunday and Monday so it couldn't have run too much quicker.

Other than AFP, I haven't seen any attempt to get reactions from Iraqis on this issue and it's a major issue. Saturday, we covered Graner's release in "The release of a War Criminal" and e-mails are still coming in on that. Due to the issue and Abu Ghraib's place in history, I'd argue that coverage of the topic would be "timely" for several weeks to come. In addition, the release may have an impact on the way Iraqis see US troops remaining in Iraq (I would guess it wouldn't impact the political blocs but I could be wrong on that -- and often am wrong) and the writers bring that into their blog entry as well.


(Troy Yocum photo taken by John Crosby)

Hike for our Heroes is a non-profit started by Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum who is hiking across the country to raise awareness and money for veterans issues. He began the walk in April 2010 with the plan of 7,000 miles. Chad Gustafson (Post-Journal) reports that Troy spent Sunday in Jamestown, New York and was able to take part in the town's celebration for their own hometown hero, Lucille Ball (Ball's 100th birthday was Saturday). Gustafson notes that Yocum is on the final weeks of his hike and plans to complete it next month (September 3rd) in Louisville, Kentucky.

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today she has an event in Seattle addressing the Hiring Heroes Act she has championed.
WEDNESDAY: Murray at Amazon Headquarters to Discuss Hiring Heroes Act
With unemployment rate among young veterans at over 27%, Senator Murray will discuss her landmark bill that will require job skills training for every separating service member, create new pathways to private sector and federal employment; Senator Murray will hear firsthand from employees of Amazon's successful
veterans hiring program.
(Washington, D.C.) -- Wednesday, August 10th U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will visit Amazon Headquarters in Seattle to discuss current efforts to address unemployment among our nation's veterans. Senator Murray's bill, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, is the first of its kind to require broad job skills training for service members returning home and comes at a time when more than one in four veterans aged 18-24 are unemployed. In addition to providing new job skills training to all service members, the bill will also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military, and will improve veteran mentorship programs in the working world. For more information on the bill visit HERE.
Workers hired under Amazon's veterans recruiting program will also be sharing their stories at the event.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray

Amazon workers hired under their veteran hired program

WHAT: Senator Murray will speak at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle to highlight her Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, a bill that will require job skills training for

service members, create new pathways to private sector and federal employment

WHEN: Wednesday, August 10th

10:30 AM PT

WHERE: Amazon Headquarters

440 Terry Ave. N.

Seattle, WA 98109


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