International Herald Tribune
March 1, 2005
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - The State Department on Monday detailed an array of human rights abuses last year by the Iraqi government, including torture, rape and illegal detentions by police officers and functionaries of the interim administration that took power in June.
In the Bush administration's bluntest description of human rights transgressions by the American-supported government, the report said the Iraqis "generally respected human rights, but serious problems remained" as the government and American-led foreign forces fought a violent insurgency. It cited "reports of arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions - particularly in pretrial detention facilities - and arbitrary arrest and detention."
The lengthy discussion came in a chapter on Iraq in the department's annual report on human rights, which pointedly criticized not only countries that had been found chronically deficient, like North Korea, Syria and Iran, but also some close American allies, including Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The allegations of abuses by an Iraqi government installed by the United States and still heavily influenced by it provided an unusual element to the larger report. The report did not address incidents in Iraq in which Americans were involved, like the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which came to light in 2004.
A senior State Department official said the criticism of Iraq was in keeping with the administration's approach. "What it shows is that we don't look the other way," the official said. "There are countries we support and that are friends, and when they have practices that don't meet international standards, we don't hesitate to call a spade a spade."
The official said Iraqi officials accepted that there had been problems and were correcting their practices. "The Iraqis are not in denial on this," the official added.
The report emphasized the larger accomplishments of the Iraqi people, as symbolized by the successful elections of Jan. 30. But it gave extensive details about complaints that the government had violated human rights provisions of the transitional law put in place by the United States and the Iraqi Governing Council shortly after the 2003 invasion.
These included reports that police officers in Basra were involved in killing 10 Baath Party members; that the police in Baghdad arrested, interrogated and killed 12 kidnappers of three police officers on Oct. 16, 2004, and that corruption was a problem at every level of government.
The document cited without comment a report by Human Rights Watch, an independent advocacy group, that "torture and ill treatment of detainees by police was commonplace," allegedly including "beatings with cables and hosepipes, electric shocks to their earlobes and genitals, food and water deprivation."
In one case, the report said, enough evidence had been gathered "to prosecute police officers in Baghdad who were systematically raping and torturing female detainees." Two of them received prison sentences, while four were demoted and reassigned.
Prison conditions in Iraq had shown "significant improvement" after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the department said, but many prisons still fell short of international standards.
There were also reports of police officers making false arrests to extort money from the families of detainees, and of an Iraqi ministry having members of a political party arrested in order to occupy their offices. "Reportedly," the document said, "coerced confessions and interrogation continued to be the favored method of investigation by police."
The broader annual report, which is required by Congress and is formally titled the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, described rights abuses in other allied countries in notably tough language.
The report said that the Saudi record of abuses in 2004 "far exceeds the advances," that Egypt's and Pakistan's records were poor, and that Jordan had "many problems." It criticized all four countries over allegations of abusing and torturing prisoners.
But the document also struck optimistic notes at times. It cited the success of democratic elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine, and suggested that developments in those places, coming as President Bush continued to promote democracy as a counter to terrorism, might be helping to embolden people elsewhere to shed a hopelessness about change.
In much of the broader Middle East, "people are increasingly conscious of the freedom deficit in the region," Under Secretary Paula J. Dobriansky said in introducing the report.
The official attention paid to Egypt and Saudi Arabia is not new, but some of the language in the report was unexpectedly sharp. In Saudi Arabia, for example, it said: "There were credible reports of torture and abuse of prisoners by security forces, arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions. The religious police continued to intimidate, abuse and detain citizens and foreigners. Most trials were closed."
Egypt, it said, restricted many basic rights, and its security forces continued to mistreat prisoners, leading to at least 10 deaths in custody.
The report on Iraq also covered the year in which the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib were uncovered.
An acting assistant secretary of state, Michael G. Kozak, was asked Monday how that scandal had affected the administration's latest evaluation. "Look," he said, "the events at Abu Ghraib were a stain on the honor of the U.S.; there's no two ways about it."
What mattered, he said, was whether a government worked to redress the abuses that do occur. "I think you've seen the U.S. being very active," he said.
The report, coming days after some critics suggested that President Bush had been insufficiently tough with President Vladimir V. Putin, listed several complaints about Russia. It criticized the central government's consolidation of power at the expense of the regions, its restriction of news media, and its allowing of political pressure to taint the judiciary.
It said China, which has a growing commercial relationship with the United States, continued to abuse prisoners, harass activists and restrict religious practices.
North Korea was condemned for continued "brutal and repressive" treatment of its people; Iran for allowing citizen's freedom to "deteriorate;" and Syria for widespread use of torture, poor prison conditions and mass arrests of Kurds.
Sudan's human rights record was called extremely poor, both for restricting freedoms and for the continuing violence by government-linked militias in Darfur Province.