White Phosphorus, Caged Lions, Peeling Skin

Allegations of torture, war crimes make Iraq campaign uglier yet

 WASHINGTON, D.C.--Increasingly, the U.S. is facing charges of war crimes in Iraq. In the most recent horrifying accusations of prisoner torture, the U.S. is accused of standing by while the  Iraqi occupation government permitted the excruciating torture of prisoners in a secret jail. These charges have been known since April. Neither the Iraqis nor the Americans did anything about them.    All this took place during a period where President Bush was insisting the war was going well, and when Vice President Cheney was lobbying behind the scenes to keep the CIA free to carry out torture in secret prisons abroad. Saleh al-Mutlaq, a Sunni politician, is quoted by the Boston Globe as saying the Interior Ministry detention center has been infiltrated by Shiite militia. "Some Iraqis are having their heads opened with drills, then their bodies are thrown in the streets," he claimed. "This shows that the United States should stop these acts since it is the force that occupies Iraq.’’

In addition to the ongoing controversy over torture of detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib prison, the newest instances include:

  • The apparent torture, including acts that left skin peeling from the body, of 173 mostly Sunni prisoners held in a secret prison by the U.S.-backed Iraqi government's Interior Ministry jail, led to a formal investigation by the Iraqi government, and the prisoners rescue by U.S. soldiers. Charges of these tortures have been made known since April, but neither the U.S. nor its Iraqi-backed regime, have done anything about them.
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  • The deliberate, confirmed use of chemical weapons in the form of white phosphorusagainst civilians in Falluja last year. An Italian documentary features eyewitnesses, including American military personnel who participated in them, to back up the charges. The Pentagon has admitted use of the weapons. The U.S. is not a signatory to a treaty banning their use.
  • An announced investigation by the army into charges U.S. forces put prisoners into cages with lions in 2003. Charges have been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First. Two Iraqi businessmen say they were taken to lion cages on the grounds of the presidential palace, forced to enter the cages, and were pulled back only as the lions approached. Rumsfeld called these accusations "far-fetched."
  • Meanwhile Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reiterated the administration’s support for the Iraqi security forces—the same forces responsible for the cruel treatment of prisoners. "We must be careful not to give terrorists the false hope that if they can simply hold on long enough, that they can outlast us,’’ he said. And Rumsfeld went after Democrats and Republicans who are now criticizing the administration for misleading the country into war, claiming these same politicians stood behind Bush and the government on charging Saddam had weapons of mass destruction before the war began.  

    "People who are willing to risk their lives [in the military] need to know the truth," Rumsfeld said. "They need to understand that they are there based on decisions that were made in good faith by responsible people."  

    The AP reported that Manfred Nowak, a special United Nations investigator on torture, renewed calls for an independent probe into the allegations:

    "That torture is still practiced in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, that is no secret," Nowak said a telephone interview from Vienna, Austria. "It is shocking, but on the other hand, we have received allegations of these secret places in Iraq already for quite a long time.
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