Thursday, November 17, 2005


On the spot: 'torture prison is tip of the iceberg'

Catherine Philp, reporting for The Times from Baghdad, says that a fiery press conference by Bayan Baqer Solagh, the Interior Minister, is unlikely to ease the political damage of a growing torture scandal in Iraq.

"There is not the same kind of shock and controversy over the discovery of the basement prison in Jadriya as there was over abuse scandal Abu Ghraib, because everyone has known for some time that this has been going on. Everyone knows someone to whom this has happened.

"There is more of a sense of relief that it has finally been brought into the open - although people are angry that it has taken so long.

"Sunni groups have been trying to present evidence - photographs, videos and testimony - for months, but they have only been taken seriously now that the Americans have become involved.

"Most of the press today have run the photographs [of the abused prisoners]. They have been in circulation for some time, but it is only now that they are being widely published.

"I've been collecting testimony today from people who have been held in all sorts of centres: interestingly, none of them was held in the Jadriya prison - they were all held in other places, which have apparently not been declared. It suggests that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

"This is going to do nothing to calm the tensions between the ethnic groups. We have always laboured under the impression - which now turns out to be a myth - that the Shia groups have been restrained in the face of provocation from the Sunni community.

Now it has become much more publicly clear that the Shia have been waging their own form of civil war through their security services and death squads.

"In his press conference today the Interior Minister denied this. However, he was extremely defensive and not very convincing.

"I was watching it on television with some local people and we had to turn the volume down. He was just shouting and yelling for an hour. It's hard to imagine how he can survive in his position

"One telling detail was when he said there was no torture and added: 'No one was beheaded, no one was killed.'

"The minister is a former member of al-Badr, a Shia Muslim militia, and that comment suggests that he sets quite a high bar for what constitutes torture."

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