Iraq: Security pact ‘puts detainees at risk of torture’

Baghdad, 27 Nov. (AKI) – Thousands of Iraqis detained by US forces will be at risk of torture or even execution if they are handed over to the Iraqi authorities, top rights Amnesty International warned on Friday. The warning came as the Iraqi Parliament overwhelmingly ratified a controversial security pact with the US under which around 16,000 prisoners held by the US will be transferred to Iraqi custody from the end of the year.

The pact (Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA) allows American troops to remain in the country for three more years. It has already been approved by the Iraqi Cabinet.

“The SOFA does not provide any safeguards whatsoever for prisoners transferred to Iraqi custody,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“These prisoners will potentially be moving from the frying pan into the fire,” said Malcolm Smart.

“We receive persistent reports of gross human rights violations — including torture — taking place in Iraqi prisons and detention centres. The US must ensure that no one is transferred to Iraq custody if they would face a real risk of torture or other human rights violations.”

The Iraqi authorities are already holding thousands of people, many without charge or trial, and often in appalling conditions, Amnesty said.

Many of these prisoner have no access to lawyers, while others have been sentenced to death after trials which failed to meet international fair trial standards, Amnesty stated.

The US is currently reported to hold around 16,000 prisoners in Iraq. Most are detainees who are held without charge or trial, some for more than five years and without recourse to any independent review of their detention.

Prisoners include former Baath party officials and former members of Saddam Hussein’s regime who could be at particular risk.

Ali Hassan al-Majid and two others sentenced to death for crimes committed under Saddam Hussein’s rule are likely to be executed if handed over to the Iraqi authorities.

Amnesty said it is also concerned that the agreement contains no reference to the more than 2,000 Iranians living in Iraq who are opponents of Iran’s hardline government.

The Iranians belonging to the People’s Mojahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), are based at Ashraf Camp in northern Iraq, where they have been under the protection of US forces for several years.

Some Iraqi officials have suggested that the Iranians will be forcibly expelled if they fail to comply with orders from the Iraqi government to leave the camp by 31 December 2008.