100 Tortured Each Day in Iraq
Situation Worse than Under Saddam
Andras Riedlemayer writes:
‘ The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Manfred Nowak, was interviewed about Iraq for German public broadcaster ARD’s news magazine program “Tagesschau”. He had some blunt and disturbing things to say . . .
English translation by yrs. truly; link to German original of the interview below . . . Yrs. to do with as you wish.
ARD Tagesschau 9 October 2006
Interview with the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture: “Everyone can become a victim”
Every day about 100 people become victims of murder and torture in Iraq. During the time of the Saddam dictatorship the use of force was at least predictable, according to the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Manfred Nowak, speaking in an interview with tagessschau.de. Today it can strike anyone. There are no effective mechanisms to control it — more and more it is the state itself engaged in torture.
About the person: Manfred Nowak was born in 1950 in Bad Aussee in Austria. He studied law in Vienna and New York and wrote his thesis on fundamental political rights and the history of torture. In 1992, he founded the Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights ( www.univie.ac.at/bim/ ) in Vienna. He became the first to document the “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia-Herzegovina and was the UN expert for missing persons. From 1996-2003 Nowak was a judge in the Human Rights Chamber for Bosnia. Since 2005 he is the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture.
Tagesschau.de: Mr. Nowak, is there more torture in Iraq now than in the time of Saddam Hussein?
Nowak: The report of the [UN] support mission for Iraq concludes that the situation is very serious. In July and August 2006 alone, the bodies of 6500 persons were found who had been abducted and often very gravely tortured — that is more than 100 people each day. I collaborated on this report to the extent that I interviewed various victims and non-governmental organizations. Many of them credibly reported that in their view the situation is now worse than it was under Saddam Hussein.
Under his dictatorship there was also terrible torture, but one could at least still predict who would have to fear being tortured. Today, on the other hand, the security situation is out of control to such an extent that in the final analysis every person can become a victim of abductions, summary executions, and the worst methods of torture: people’s limbs are being amputated, their fingers are missing, their eyes have been put out.
Secret torture prisons of the militias
Tagesschau.de: Who engages in torture?
Nowak: Essentially it is private militias, Shiite and Sunni, who are engaged in it. In Baghdad the struggle to seize control of particular territories is leading to ethnic cleansing. These militias have secret prisons in which torture is being carried out, but we don’t know where they are.
Tagesschau.de: What do these groups expect to achieve with the torture?
Nowak: In part they really are seeking to obtain information about the opposite side, but in part it is simply used as a means of revenge or intimidation. And there are organized gangs that torture and kill people for purely criminal motives.
“Since Abu Ghraib much has changed”
Tagesschau.de: According to your report the situation in the prisoner camps of the multi-national forces, on the other hand, has changed for the better — how did you confirm that?
Nowak: Since the torture scandal of Abu Ghraib there has been a great deal of change in consciousness. Nevertheless there are still individual allegations of mistreatment — but incomparably fewer. In fact, many Iraqis have told us they feared being transferred from a prison of the multi-national forces to an [Iraqi] state prison — because the situation in the latter is far more serious. There have been repeated indications that the state — especially the Iraqi Interior Ministry, and to a lesser extent the Defense Ministry as well — is employing methods of torture in its detention facilities.
Tagesschau.de: Are there even any functioning means of control still left in Iraq?
Nowak: No, not at this time. The Iraqi courts are helpless as they are confronted with the extent of the violence. I have nothing but respect for all governmental and non-governmental organizations attempting to restore calm and order and are engaged in the struggle to preserve human rights. That is an extremely dangerous thing to do, since it can quickly lead to oneself becoming a victim of such an attack.
Tagesschau.de: Following your experiences in the former Yugoslavia — with what measures could one rein in violence and torture in Iraq?
Nowak: Primarily one has to try to bring all parties responsible, on all sides, to a negotiating table — even though that is quite difficult due to the splintering of the groups. Only once the security situation has been brought under some degree of control again can one think about the protection of human rights, for example in the form of a national action plan for the prevention of torture.
Tagesschau.de: The United States is still reluctant to speak of a civil war in Iraq. How do you see it?
Nowak: As I observe that in the span of two months 6500 people who are not participants (in the fighting) have died, as it becomes totally unclear who is fighting against whom, and as the state structures are standing by powerless to do anything about it — then I would characterize it as a civil war. Of course, the United States has a very strong interest in maintaining the belief that its mission at some point will lead to a peaceful and democratic Iraq. But the facts, unfortunately, are leading us in the opposite direction.
/Questions put by Carolin Ströbele, tagesschau.de /