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'14,000 detained without trial in Iraq'

Mike McDonough, The Guardian

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March 6, 2006 - US and UK forces in Iraq have detained thousands of people without charge or trial for long periods and there is growing evidence of Iraqi security forces torturing detainees, Amnesty International said today.
In a new report published today, the human rights group criticised the US-led multinational force for interning some 14,000 people.

Around 3,800 people have been held for over a year, while another 200 have been detained for more than two years, the report - Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq - said.

"It is a dangerous precedent for the world that the US and UK think it completely defensible to hold thousands of people without charge or trial," Amnesty spokesman Neil Durkin said.

The detainee situation in Iraq was comparable to Guantßnamo Bay, he added, but on a much larger scale, and the detentions appeared to be "arbitrary and indefinite".

"It sends a very worrying message to the people of Iraq that the multinational force does not think normal human rights standards apply," he said.

Amnesty said there was no fresh evidence of US-led troops abusing detainees in ways similar to Abu Ghraib prison, but it warned that the US practice of denying detainees access to lawyers or visits by relatives for their first 60 days in custody left the door open to mistreatment.

"The worry is that people will suffer abuse during that period and it is less likely to be checked if there is no form of external oversight," Mr Durkin said.

The Amnesty report also claimed Iraqi security forces were systematically violating the rights of detainees.

Many cases of torture, including electric shocks or beatings with plastic cables, have been reported since US-led forces handed power to Iraqi officials in June 2004, the document said.

Several detainees reportedly died in Iraqi custody last year, and some of their bodies bore injuries consistent with torture, Amnesty said.

The report expressed particular concern about the activities of the Wolf brigade, a unit that reports to the Iraqi interior ministry.

Mr Durkin insisted it was feasible for the Iraqi authorities to implement international human rights standards despite the country's extremely volatile security situation.

"We do not see what is unreasonable about abiding by human rights standards in attempts to police Iraq," he said. "And you are not going to fuel resentment to the same degree as if you imprison people without charge, that is a recipe for disaster."

Amnesty acknowledged that armed groups opposed to the US-led force were responsible for many of the abuses being committed in Iraq, including attacks targeting civilians.

But the group said it had addressed that issue in earlier reports, and that it was not the focus of its latest publication.

The vast majority of the 14,000 people held in Iraq are in US custody.

British troops are holding 43 detainees at a facility in Shaiba, southern Iraq, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said. Their detention is subject to regular review by an internment panel, but lawyers can only make written submissions.

Amnesty said it was concerned the lawyers do not have access to any substantive evidence against their clients.

One man, Hillal "Abdul Razzaq" Ali al-Jedda, has been in British custody since his arrest in October 2004. The 48-year-old dual Iraqi and UK national has not been charged with any offence, and a court of appeal judgment on his detention is awaited following a hearing in January.

The Foreign Office said the UK followed UN guidelines for detaining suspects.

"We believe that the detention is legal and fair and subject to review," a spokesman said.

ę Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006


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