New report details widespread torture of female Iraqi prisoners

A look at the extent of widespread torture of men and women in the Iraqi prison system. Trigger warning for torture and sexual violence.

Submitted by Soapy on February 7, 2014

Just as in the time of Saddam, Iraq’s judicial system continues to rely mainly on confessions to determine the guilt of prisoners. Last year there were 1,200 men and women on Iraq’s death row, and most of them had confessed to their crimes after undergoing torture. It does not matter what you are accused of, once in prison the Iraqi government will make sure that you confess, one way or another. If you yourself are able to withstand the torture, then your family will be threatened. On February 6th, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled “‘No One Is Safe’: Abuses of Women in Iraq’s Criminal Justice System.” The report is an attempt to document the cases of some 1,100 women in Iraqi prison.

For instance there is the case of alias Fatima Hussein, 43, an Iraqi journalist who submitted a report to the Iraqi Prime Minister’s office on detainee abuse in the judicial system. On February 29th, 2012, she was called to a police station by an acquaintance who claimed he was being held prison there. When she arrived at the police station she was arrested for alleged involvement in the murder of a parliamentarian’s brother. The day after she was arrested, she was electrocuted until she passed out. When she woke up she was electrocuted again while being beaten on the soles of her feet. She passed out again. When she woke up she was tied to a building column for two days after which time she was beaten and had her teeth broken. She was then repeatedly raped. The torture was meant to coerce Fatima into signing a confession to various crimes associated with involvement in Al-Qaeda. The day after she was raped, a TV crew from the state owned Iraqiya channel came to the prison to tape her confession. However, she was still hesitant about confessing. At this moment the colonel overseeing her torture put Fatima on the phone with her daughter and told Fatima that what had happened to her would happen to her daughter if she did not confess. Fatima confessed to the crimes, but she was lucky, she was not found guilty by the judge who she was brought before. However, Human Rights Watch reports that as of this writing she is still in in prison.

Robert Fisk of The Independent tells the story of Abdullah al-Qahtani, currently on death row. Qahtani is accused of participating in a November 2009 armed robbery of a jewelry store in which the storeowner was killed. Supposedly he carried out the robbery to fund “terrorist activities”. However, Iraqi government documents show that between October 2009 and April 2010, Qahtani was in Iraqi government custody on charges of illegal immigration from Saudi Arabia so therefore could not possibly have carried out the robbery. Even so, he has not been cleared of the charges against him, and the person accused of being his accomplice has already been hung. While awaiting death, Qahtani has undergone torture, as have all of the witnesses in the trial who testified against him and later retracted their coerced statements.

But apparently this information is of little concern to Oren Dorell, of USA Today, who in a January 12th article writes, “The 2003 U.S. invasion gave birth to what was the Arab world's only democracy and may have fomented the Arab Spring revolutionary movements that unseated dictators in Egypt and Libya.” No evidence is provided to suggest that the invasion of Iraq somehow “fomented” the Arab Spring uprisings, nor is there any evidence provided that Iraq ever resembled anything close to a functioning capitalist democracy. As for the horrible violence that the invasion instigated, Dorell’s article only mentions the 4,400 U.S. soldiers that died during the invasion and occupation of Iraq. There is not even a passing mention of the Iraqi death toll. In 2013, the University Collaborative Iraq Mortality Study reported that 461,000 Iraqis had died due to violence caused by the invasion, occupation and subsequent fighting. This number is far lower than the number produced in 2006 by the British medical journal The Lancet, which found 655,000 dead. As for the forced confessions documented by Human Rights Watch, Dorell only makes a brief mention of the current Iraqi government’s “harsh ways” which puts the “harmony” in Iraq, “very much at risk.”