Bremer Knew

The former Iraqi minister of human rights, who resigned over the indifference of Coalition authorities to complaints he brought before them, confirms that top US officials knew the full extent of the torture of Iraqi prisoners, reports Nermeen Al-Mufti from Baghdad

The heinous scandal of Abu Ghraib is not the only violation of human rights and international law in Iraq. According to Baghdad's Red Cross (ICRC) Spokesperson Nada Doumani, Abu Ghraib is but the tip of the iceberg, and of these and other violations Chief Civil Administrator L Paul Bremer was well aware.

Dr Abdul-Baset Turki, the first minister for human rights appointed by the Interim Governing Council (IGC), also confirmed that Bremer knew about the atrocities.

"From the beginning I knew that in an occupied country there would be gross human rights abuses. Still, I accepted the position thinking that the democracy project was a worthy cause," Turki told Al- Ahram Weekly.

Turki resigned on 8 April when the occupation forces bombed Falluja and the suburbs of Sadr City and Shu'la in Baghdad, deciding either to capture or to kill the militant Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. He tendered his resignation again on 29 April during a Cabinet meeting he himself called for just before the release of the Abu Ghraib photos.

"I knew about the violations of human rights in the jails yet I could not imagine it to be so ugly," Turki said. "By the end of last December I submitted a report about the violations during house raids, at checkpoints, putting sandbags on the heads of the detainees in addition to the violations and inhuman treatment in jails and detention centres, especially in Baghdad airport."

Last December, Turki informed Bremer about the suffering of female detainees. In the same month he informed the Arab League on the same issue. On a weekly basis, often with few responses forthcoming, his ministry sent claims and complaints of violations to occupation authorities.

Turki first heard serious allegations of torture in Abu Ghraib at a Cabinet meeting last March in which the minister of justice informed Bremer that female detainees were raped. He subsequently upset the Americans at a United Nations-sponsored human rights meeting in Geneva. "There was monitoring of human rights in Iraq until 9 April 2003. I demanded that this monitoring continue while the Americans refused," he said.

The most painful case of human rights violations Turki informed Bremer of was that of a house raid in Mosul, northern Iraq. "The occupation forces attacked a house. An American soldier threw a grenade in a room then he closed the door. A mother and her four children were killed. Another American soldier killed the woman's brother-in-law. Then they discovered they were at the wrong address."

What did Bremer do? "He listened," Turki recounts. Why didn't such incidents appear in the press, local or international? "I did not want to use my people's suffering. I knew the press could wield pressure. Still, I thought that I could work. Then I discovered my post was merely part of the decoration for the sham democracy in Iraq," says Turki.

Doumani told the Weekly that the ICRC began visiting Abu Ghraib jail in March 2003, before the fall of the Hussein regime. An ICRC team organised its first post-Saddam visit to Abu Ghraib last October. The team met with the director of the jail. They submitted a report to General Janis Karpinski -- formally admonished and quietly "suspended" in January -- and met the American attorney-general in Iraq.

"During those meetings we mentioned a lot of violations in Abu Ghraib and other jails," recalls Doumani. In February, and after many visits to jails and detention centres, the ICRC submitted a report to Bremer and General Sanchez. That report explained in detail the violations of human rights. Doumani added, "The atrocities shown in the photos published by the media are not the only violations. There are many other undocumented atrocities that the ICRC is aware of. Hundreds of Iraqis were arrested without authorities informing their families, force has been used frequently during interrogations, long periods in solitude followed, with detainees crowded together in unsanitary tents."

According to many Iraqis who submitted complaints to local NGOs newly established to defend human rights in Iraq, these organisations do nothing on violations committed by occupation forces. Their work is rather to gather testimony to the violations committed by Hussein and his regime. Fawzi Al- Zaidi, whose 16-year-old son Ahmed was killed by the Americans, tried to sue the occupation authorities for compensation, or at least get an apology. He has been trying since last October, but until now got nothing. He went to many local and international NGOs filling out hundreds of complaint forms, photocopying documents and wasting money for nothing. Al-Zaidi is one example in thousands.

"Bremer disregards the violations of human rights in occupied Iraq," Turki states. His ministry established a special unit to deal with conditions in jails, especially Abu Ghraib. The office collected evidence of abuse but was swiftly informed that it had limited authority that extended only to dealing with minor crimes. "Nobody is ready to defend the Iraqis," Turki adds.

[Source: Al-Ahram, Cairo, 13 to 19May04]

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