Iraq, 10 years later: Human rights abuses continue

In this photo from July, 2003, American forces escort a detained Iraqi to a detention center at Forward Operation Base (FOB) in Balad, 76 km north of Baghdad, Iraq. Since the beginning of the war ten years ago, human rights abuses by US, coalition and Iraqi forces against the people have not stopped.
Marco DiLauro

In the 10 years since American forces invaded Iraq — touted as a necessary action to remove a dictator, prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction and bring about democracy — human rights abuses have abounded and not abated.

Even after withdrawing combat troops, the US intelligence apparatus maintains a large presence in Iraq, and reports indicate that US involvement could even be beefed up to assist Iraqi forces in the near future.

"Ten years after the end of Saddam Hussein's repressive rule, many Iraqis today enjoy greater freedoms than they did under his regime, but the fundamental human rights gains that should have been achieved during the past decade have significantly failed to materialize," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Amnesty International. "Neither the Iraqi government nor the former occupying powers have adhered to the standards required of them under international law and the people of Iraq are still paying a heavy price for their failure."

On the anniversary of the 2003 invasion, it's time to look at the major human rights abuses perpetuated by the United States in Iraq, by coalition forces, and by the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister al-Maliki, under the tutorship of American security experts.

The rates of birth defects are now 14 times higher in Fallujah than they are in Hiroshima. The US used depleted uranium and white phosphorus during two 2004 sieges of the city, bombing residents with chemicals that have lingered in the dusty environment and poisoned two generations of Iraqis.

Truthout and Al Jazeera have reported on an epidemic of birth defects in the area, which experts agree is the result of the US invasion.

"My colleagues and I have all noticed an increase in Fallujah of congenital malformations, sterility, and infertility," Dr Salah Haddad of the Iraqi Society for Health Administration said to Al Jazeera. "In Fallujah, we have the problem of toxics introduced by American bombardments and the weapons they used, like DU."

Truthout reports:

Doctors in Fallujah are continuing to witness the aforementioned steep rise in severe congenital birth defects, including children being born with two heads, children born with only one eye, multiple tumors, disfiguring facial and body deformities, and complex nervous system problems.

Cancer, too, has been on the rise, due to atmospheric retention of poisons like mercury, lead, and toxic levels of radiation left over from bombing.

But if Iraqis aren’t being killed by the air they breathe, the government isn’t much better.

Water boarding and “enhanced interrogation techniques,” like those exposed at Abu Ghraib, were stalwarts of the Iraq War that have continued even after US forces withdrew and handed security responsibility over to the Iraqi government.

Torture is routinely used against detainees (especially those held on terrorism charges, whether they’re valid or not), usually in an attempt to force a confession from a prisoner. Female prisoners have also reported being repeatedly raped while in custody.

“The abuses US officials allegedly authorized in the early years of the war in Iraq, and their tacit or direct complicity in Iraqi abuses throughout the occupation, are all partly responsible for the entrenchment of weak and corrupt institutions in Iraq,” Human Rights Watch said yesterday in a release condemning “a striking failure of accountability on the part of the United States, the United Kingdom and Iraq itself.”

Amnesty documented numerous allegations of torture in a report released earlier this month called “Iraq: Still paying a high price after a decade of abuses,” detailing in-depth reports of torture from multiple sources.

For example:

According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, the classified US government files disclosed by Wikileaks showed that US forces recorded 1,365 reports of torture in detention facilities controlled by the Iraqi authorities that they received between May 2005 and December 2009. In one, recorded in the US files on 19 October 2006, a detainee said he had been tortured during the previous day by being “beaten about the feet and legs with a blunt object, and punched in the face and head” by Iraqi security forces and that “electricity was used on his feet and genitals and he was also sodomized with a water bottle”

Many of those tortured in custody have been arbitrarily detained in secret prisons for years, and because of a culture of fear and intimidation, it is common for security forces to round up hundreds of people at once in the search for suspects of a bombing or terrorist attack.

According to Amnesty, “US forces found 625 detainees at another detention facility of the Ministry of Interior in Baghdad, at least 13 of whom required urgent medical treatment, some apparently for injuries caused by torture or other ill-treatment.”

When prisoners are held, they’re subjected to undercooked food, having their fingernails removed, and one detainee said he was “hung upside down from his feet with his head placed in a bucket of water while he was whipped with plastic rods,” according to Al Jazeera.

It has been a long ten years, but the brutality hasn’t ceased for a moment. It has only increased.

Navi Pillay, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, has expressed outrage and concern over these issues, in addition to a steep increase in executions, which were reinstated during the US occupation.

At least 447 prisoners have been executed since 2005, and hundreds of prisoners wait on death row. In addition, 129 prisoners were hanged in 2012, reports Al Jazeera.

“The failure of successive US governments to investigate numerous allegations of abuses by US and Iraqi forces has set an ominous precedent and helped to root a culture of impunity as one of the core features of the US legacy in Iraq,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Whether the US failures were due to willful ignorance or a deliberate desire to cover up its role, 10 years on, the people of Iraq deserve better from the US.”