Sunday, July 23, 2006

Report: US Torture Widespread in Iraq

Iraqi Detainee Abuse Widespread: Report

Sunday 23 July 2006

Washington - Iraqi detainees were routinely subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation, stress positions and other forms of abuse by U.S. interrogators, according to a Human Rights Watch report released on Sunday that offers first-hand accounts from three former soldiers.

The U.S.-based watchdog group said its report discredits government arguments casting mistreatment of detainees as the aberrant and unauthorized work of a few personnel.

It included accounts by former soldiers who said detainees were regularly subjected to beatings, sleep deprivation and stress positions -- practices that started to come to light two years ago when pictures of physical abuse and sexual humiliation at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison surfaced.

"These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional -- on the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used," said John Sifton, author of the report and the group's senior researcher on terrorism and counter-terrorism.

A Defense Department spokesman, however, said 12 reviews have been conducted and none found the Pentagon promulgated a policy that condoned, directed or encouraged abuse.

"The standard of treatment is and always has been humane treatment of detainees in DoD's custody," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a Pentagon spokesman.

Human Rights Watch said it could only document instances of abuse from soldiers stationed in Iraq up to April 2004.

The United States has faced international criticism for the indefinite detention of detainees at a naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and for physical abuse and sexual humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.

The Bush administration, however, says it treats prisoners humanely. The Pentagon acknowledged earlier this month that all detainees held by the U.S. military are covered by an article of the Geneva Conventions that bars inhumane treatment.

But Human Rights Watch said the U.S. government's insistence that abusive practices were not authorized or routine and the military's failure to put any blame on leadership have hindered probes into detainee treatment.

The group's report offered accounts of abuse at three facilities in Iraq.

Former Army interrogator Tony Lagouranis said, in one account, that abusive techniques were commonplace at a Mosul facility, where he was based from February to April 2004.

Lagouranis, then a specialist in rank, said he was given interrogation rules on a card that Human Rights Watch said "authorized" the use of dogs, exposure to hot and cold temperatures, sleep deprivation and forced exercise, among other means of coercion.

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