Reporting from New York — An elite security force affiliated with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki that has been accused of abuse transferred about 280 detainees out of a notorious Baghdad jail last fall shortly before an international team was to inspect conditions there, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday.
The New York-based advocacy group said the detainees who'd been hastily moved out of the Green Zone facility known as Camp Honor before the inspection were taken to Camp Justice, another jail in Baghdad's Kadhimiya neighborhood, and were still under the authority of special units. The detainees had no access to families or lawyers, the rights group said.
One former detainee at Camp Honor, which is run by a special unit known as the Baghdad Brigade and the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism bureau, told Human Rights Watch that interrogators forced him to wear a blindfold and lie facedown on the floor with his hands tied behind his back while they stood on his arms.
Another former detainee, who was in Camp Honor last summer, said his hands were tied over his head and his feet were put in water before he was prodded with electric shocks to his head, neck and chest. He told an investigator, "The interrogators beat me repeatedly and told me that they would go to my house and rape my sister if I did not sign a confession, so I did. I did not even know what I was confessing."
Conditions for detainees in Iraq have been under scrutiny since last spring after The Times first detailed wide-ranging mistreatment at a facility considered a secret prison that fell under the administration of the prime minister's military office and had links to the Baghdad Brigade.
Under pressure from government ministers, Maliki had ordered that facility closed and had promised prison reform and a crackdown on those responsible. But in an article last month, The Times again revealed allegations of abuse by members of the Baghdad Brigade, this time at Camp Honor. The Times reported that families and lawyers had been barred access to detainees, including some who had been held for two years.
Maliki also had said last year, at the time of the prison scandal, that Camp Honor was being handed over to Iraq's Justice Ministry, which is in charge of prisons, but Human Rights Watch obtained documents indicating that this facility and others remain under control of units that report directly to the military office under Maliki.
Officials from both Iraq's Defense and Interior ministries complained to Human Rights Watch that soldiers in these elite units and members of the Counter-Terrorism bureau routinely make mass arrests and detentions without notifying proper authorities in the security ministries.
Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director of the advocacy group, said secret prisons, abuse of authority, and ugly treatment of detainees should not exist in Iraq.
"This is a government that is supposed to be something very different from the previous one. But it's behaving in much the same way," Stork said. "The difference now is there are political forces in Iraq that are not at all happy with this kind of thing. This has sparked outrage, as it should."
The Counter-Terrorism bureau defended its record at Camp Honor in an interview last week. "Our people are working in a professional way. They are not detaining anyone who doesn't have any evidence against them, and we are doing it with warrants from the judiciary," said spokesman Samir Shawaili.
The U.S. government, in its own internal communications, had raised concern last year about allegations of abuse at Camp Honor.
Times staff writer Ned Parker in Cairo contributed to this report.