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New Reports of Abuse in Iraq Detention Centers

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

For the second time in a month, what appear to be victims of torture have been found in a prison in Baghdad. They were found last Thursday; the news was just made public yesterday. Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim Al-Jafari, has ordered an investigation into what he described as `an unhealthy phenomenon.' The prison was being run by Iraqi commanders under control of the country's Interior Ministry. Earlier today I spoke with NPR's Jamie Tarabay, who's following this story in Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

We know that there were about 620 prisoners in the prison. It was crowded. And once investigators found it, they immediately took out about 70 of them and put them in another detention center. They also released 56 directly after searching the facility. But there were 13 who were so mistreated that they needed to be hospitalized immediately. One of the Iraqi officials who was close to the search said that these people showed signs of severe torture. Some of the things he said had happened to them included things like having their fingernails pulled out; some of them had suffered electric shocks; others had been burnt with cigarettes, and there were still others who had had their bones broken.

BLOCK: The men whom you're describing here, were they Sunni, were they Shiite, some of both?

TARABAY: Well, we don't know those details yet. Some of the officials involved have not said what the breakdown is, if there's Sunni or Shia. The last time that they found a security detention center like this, the majority of the men being held there were Sunni. And I guess for that reason more than any other, they're refusing to release those details now.

BLOCK: At that first prison, where the abuse was discovered, the Iraqi troops there were Shiite militiamen. They were members of the Badr organization. Have you learned who the people running this prison were?

TARABAY: Well, we know that both of those prisons were being run by the Interior Ministry, and this one that was searched on Thursday is run by a commando unit of the Interior Ministry. And the Interior Ministry itself has a very significant number of people who were formerly members of the Badr militia and particularly these commando units as well. So it's more likely than not that this is the case here.

BLOCK: We mentioned that the Iraqi prime minister has ordered an investigation into what went on at this prison. Who will be conducting that investigation?

TARABAY: Well, we're not sure who is going to be doing that yet. Ibrahim Al-Jafari announced that an investigation would take place when the detention center was discovered last month. And he said that the results would be announced within two weeks; it's been nearly a month, and we've heard nothing yet on the results of that investigation. So whoever it is that decides to look into the way that these people are being treated in the Interior Ministry building prisons, it's not clear yet.

BLOCK: But it presumably would be some wing of the Iraqi government investigating another wing of the Iraqi government, the Interior Ministry.

TARABAY: Right. It would definitely be within the government restrictions. We've got people from the Human Rights Ministry who have been going around, it seems now, and inspecting these prisons. So presumably it would be under their purview.

BLOCK: Jamie, is it clear what, if any, knowledge US troops had about this prison and about the abuse and torture that was going on there?

TARABAY: Well, as far as we know, the Americans did know that the prison existed, but what they knew about what was going on there is something else entirely. That's not clear. Authorities aren't saying whether there are any Americans involved in the inquiry. But according to at least one report, US troops were involved in the raid on this facility.

BLOCK: NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad.

Jamie, thanks very much.

TARABAY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.