A prisoner was kneeling on the ground, blindfolded and handcuffed, when an Iraqi soldier walked over to him and kicked him in the neck. A US marine sergeant was watching and reported the incident, which was duly recorded and judged to be valid. The outcome: “No investigation required.”
That was a relatively minor assault. Another of the leaked Iraqi war logs records the case of a man who was arrested by police on suspicion of preparing a suicide bomb. In the station, an officer shot him in the leg and then, the log continues, this detainee “suffered abuse which amounted to cracked ribs, multiple lacerations and welts and bruises from being whipped with a large rod and hose across his back.” This was all recorded and judged to amount to “reasonable suspicion of abuse”. The outcome: “No further investigation.”
Other logs record not merely assaults but systematic torture. A man who was detained by Iraqi soldiers in an underground bunker reported that he had been subjected to the notoriously painful strappado position: with his hands tied behind his back, he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists. The soldiers had then whipped him with plastic piping and used electric drills on him. The log records that the man was treated by US medics; the paperwork was sent through the necessary channels; but yet again, no investigation was required.
This is the impact of Frago 242. A frago is a ‘fragmented order’, which summarises a complex requirement. This one, which was issued in June 2004, about a year after the invasion of Iraq, orders coalition troops not to investigate any breach of the laws of armed conflict, such as the abuse of detainees, unless it directly involves members of the coalition. Where the alleged abuse is committed by Iraqi on Iraqi, “only an initial report will be made…. No further investigation will be required unless directed by HQ.”
Frago 242 appears to have been issued as part of the wider political effort to pass the management of security from the coalition to Iraqi hands. In effect, it means that the Iraqi regime has been forced to change its political constitution but allowed to retain its use of torture. The systematic viciousness of the old dictatorship when Saddam’s security agencies enforced order without any regard for law continues, reinforced by the chaotic savagery of the new criminal, political and sectarian groups who have emerged since the invasion in 2003 and who have infiltrated some police and army units, using Iraq’s detention cells for their private vendettas.
Hundreds of the leaked war logs reflect the fertile imagination of the torturer faced with the entirely helpless victim – bound, gagged, blindfolded and isolated – who is whipped by men in uniforms using wire cables, metal rods, rubber hoses, wooden stakes, TV antennae, plastic water pipes, engine fan belts or chains. At the torturer’s whim, the logs reveal, the victim can be hung by his wrists or by his ankles; knotted up in stress positions; sexually molested or raped; tormented with hot peppers, cigarettes, acid, pliers or boiling water – and always with little fear of retribution since, far more often than not, if the Iraqi official is assaulting an Iraqi civilian, no further investigation will be required.
Most of the victims are young men, but there are also logs which record serious and sexual assaults on women; on young people, including a boy of 16 who was hung from the ceiling and beaten; the old and vulnerable, including a disabled man whose damaged leg was deliberately attacked. The logs identify perpetrators from every corner of the Iraqi security apparatus – soldiers, police officers, prison guards, border enforcement patrols.
There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are precisely the internal records of those coalition forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents which were witnessed directly by coalition forces. The coalition’s answer, laid out in Frago 242, is to hand responsibility to the senior officers of the Iraqi security forces. It is to them that the coalition send their reports. But those reports suggest that senior officers frequently are part of the problem.
A police lieutenant whose men have been beating up three suspected drug dealers, is recorded as confiding to a US captain that “light beatings and the threat of beatings were often used to gain information from prisoners.” A chief of police in Riyadh is confronted with evidence that numerous detainees have been abused by his men and that blood stains and ‘suspected tools of torture’ have been found in his own office: “He responded he was aware of the beatings and supported it as a method of conducting investigations.”
In June last year, coalition forces dealt with a prisoner who was bruised, shaken and tearful and who reported that a unit of Iraqi soldiers had beaten him on the soles of his feet and on his back and threatened him with sexual assault. The log continued: “This is not the first time that this battalion have been accused of alleged detainee abuse. There have been at least three previous accusations.” They then noted that on the very afternoon when this latest alleged assault had occurred, their own senior officers had been meeting with the Iraqi brigade commanders who were responsible for this battalion and who claimed to have heard nothing about any detainee being abused: “Brigade has a duty to control their subordinate units; if they fail to do so, the alleged violence, if it is occurring at the battalion level, will undoubtedly continue.”
And it does continue. With no effective constraint, the logs show, the use of violence has remained embedded in the everyday practice of Iraqi security, with recurrent incidents up to December of last year. Most often, the abuse is a standard operating procedure in search of a confession, whether true or false. One of the leaked logs has a detainee being beaten with chains, cables and fists and then confessing to involvement in killing six people because “the torture was too much for him to handle.”
Sometimes, the abuse is simply rough justice. When police caught a suspected bomb-maker, they beat him up and, according to the log, allowed a crowd of local people to join them in doing so. When a group of ten officers picked up three drunken lads who had been stealing bananas, they tied them up and battered them severely. At other times, Iraqi security clearly have engaged in abuse to exact revenge. After an Iraqi soldier was killed in a firefight, his battalion went out and rounded up 32 people. Within ten minutes, the log records, they had beaten up 18 of them, leaving 14 with visible injuries. On another occasion, in Fallujah, in January 2007, police who were investigating an attempt to assassinate one of their majors, found their prime suspect in hospital with a gun-shot wound in the leg: the logs record that they hauled him out, beat him up in the car park outside their base and then dumped him on the floor in an office, still bleeding from his gun-shot wound.
It is clear, too, that some Iraqi security units are themselves simply engaging in crime, whether for financial or political motives. The logs record a police officer who was torturing detainees in order to extort money from their families to pay him to stop; another who allowed outsiders into the police station to assault a particular prisoner. Sectarian fault lines run through the security agencies: Shia soldiers respond to a Sunni man, who reports an IED on the roof of his truck, by beating him with cables and a piece of wood; a police station near Baghdad is taken over by Shia militants from the Mahdi army, who imprison five opponents in a secret room where they are found later variously coughing blood and showing signs of rape.
At its worst, the accounts seem unbelievable and yet they are made credible by records of injuries. Last July, coalition forces discovered the case of a man who was said to have been tortured two years earlier, in June 2007, by three Iraqi army lieutenants who “tortured him by pouring chemicals on his hands, cut his fingers off”. They found he had been treated at Mosul General Hospital at the end of June 2007, where the records confirmed that doctors had had to amputate his right leg below the knee as well as several toes on his left foot and several fingers on both hands. They also found extensive scars which they diagnosed as chemical/acid burns. On that occasion, Mosul police became involved and issued a warrant for the three named lieutenants but, the log shows, that two year later, no arrest had been made, and the victim had been released from hospital: “His location is currently unknown.”
Numerous logs show individual members of the coalition making genuine attempts to stop the abuse. Since 2006 the coalition has had military transition teams, known as Mitts, working alongside Iraqi military units; and police transition teams, PTTs, embedded with local police. These teams are recorded on multiple occasions making unannounced spot checks at Iraqi security bases and finding torture in progress. “Captain Walker and 1st Lieutenant Ziemba… caught Captain Hassan and Sgt Alaa by surprise… In the office there was what appeared to be a battery with open ended wires…. Before entering the office, Capt Walker and 1Lt Siemba (sic) heard what sounded like an individual being hit and moaning. The detainee was sitting in the centre of the room sobbing. They stopped the suspected abuse.”
Even then – unless HQ gives them special permission to investigate – all they can do is to remonstrate. The logs record the excuses offered by Iraqi security personnel: two men are covered in bruises because “they fell out of the armoured car on the way to the detention facility”; a man with a dislocated shoulder “fell off his chair”; a man in a police headquarters who is covered in injuries and reports being beaten on the feet and legs, punched in the face, electrocuted in his feet and genitals and sodomised with a water bottle, is claimed simply to have fallen off his motorcycle.
The coalition has had some success. Some Iraqi officers have been suspended. Some have even been arrested. In September 2008, in Diyala, a police lieutenant, Sabah Mahdi Zayni, wa arrested for killing three Sunni civilians and because, it was alleged, he “was also responsible for abuse and rape of Sunni detainees in the Wajihiyah area.” Numerous reports show Iraqi police and soldiers attempting to conceal their abuse from the coalition. A log last May records a detainee being electrocuted by Iraqi police who clamped a hand over his mouth and told him “to keep quiet because the Americans might hear his screams.”
But, working within the limits of Frago 242 – without the power to open a formal investigation – that success is limited. Four years ago, in June 2006, coalition personnel targeted the police station at Husaybah: “There is evidence of torture in a holding cell… and clear evidence that human rights violations are occurring… Large amounts of blood on the cell floor, a wire used for electric shock and a rubber hose… The taped ends had the presence of blood.” According to the log, the police transition team spoke to Iraqi police commanders, counseled and retrained junior officers, organised unannounced visits to the station and physically stayed there overnight. And yet three years later, in February 2009, there was new evidence that Husaybah police had set up a torture room in which they had abused some 33 victims. A senior Iraqi officer was asked to investigate.
* To protect detainees who have made complaints, some names, identifying details and original documents have been witheld.