Sunday, November 20, 2005

Human Rights All Over the World

While Pres. Bush lectures Chinese officials on religious and political freedom, a human rights disaster has been unfolding in Iraq for many months now. Human Rights Watch published a report about it last January, which, surprisingly enough, we heard very little about from the Bush administration in their eagerness to promote the "historic elections" that took place five days after the HRW report came out.

Earlier that same month, Newsweek's Michael Hirsh wrote about the plans brewing in the Pentagon for a "Salvadoran option" in Iraq. Frustrated with the failure of U.S. efforts to prevent or stem a growing insurgency, senior military officials wanted to duplicate this policy. U.S.-funded, supported, trained, and equipped death squads did actually work, eventually, to quell the insurgencies in places like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, and Argentina -- by torturing, disappearing, raping, beating, murdering, and terrorizing tens of thousands of innocent people; but it's the end that counts, after all, not the means.

Then, last July, Peter Beaumont of The Guardian reported that Iraq's security and police forces were diverting U.S. and British aid to paramilitary death and torture units that employed such methods as burning, asphyxiation, bone-breaking beatings, summary executions, and secret detention centers. Although British and U.S. officials were told what was happening by concerned Iraqi officials, they did almost nothing to stop it and did not publicly condemn the abuses.

Now, Beaumont follows up with a piece on the escalating political violence; and, in particular, the growing phenomenon of disappearing people:

Baghdad's Medical Forensic Institute - the mortuary - is a low, modern building reached via a narrow street. Most days it is filled with families of the dead. They come here for two reasons. One group, animated and noisy in grief, comes to collect its dead. The other, however, returns day after day to poke through the new cargoes of corpses ferried in by ambulance, looking for a face or clothes they might recognise. They are the relatives and friends of the 'disappeared', searching for their men.

And when the disappeared are finally found, on the streets or in the city's massive rubbish dumps, or in the river, their bodies bear the all-too-telling signs of a savage beating, often with electrical cables, followed by the inevitable bullet to the head.

In a new twist in the ongoing brutality of this country, Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is escalating dramatically.

Last July an Observer investigation reported that Iraqi police commandos were running secret torture units, and last week there was international outrage when an Iraqi government bunker was found being used as a makeshift prison. American forces found 173 half-starved prisoners being held in dreadful conditions. Most were Sunnis.

The new trend in violence is one that Dr Alaa Maki of the Iraqi Islamic Party is familiar with. A month ago his bodyguard, Alaa al-Azawi, was taken from his home with his two brothers by police at midnight. The family were told the men were being taken for investigation. The following day his body was dumped in the street.

Eight days ago, another of Maki's friends was being treated in the Yarmouk Hospital, Iraq's second- biggest, in the western suburbs of Baghdad. His relatives, Muamir Saad Mahmoud and Ali Mahmoud, went to visit him. Instead they met men in the uniform of Iraq's police waiting for them.

Ali was later released in the vast Shia slum of Sadr City after a violent beating. Muamir has not been seen. Dr Maki and the family are now waiting for his body to turn up.

And it is not just in Baghdad. The home of Khalid Ahmad Harbood, a resident of the Alkadisia neighbourhood of Madain city, was raided at midnight on 13 October by the Alkarrar brigade, commandos of the Ministry of the Interior. Harbood was detained at their base. Transferred to the 'Panorama building' in the town, he was tortured so badly over the period of a week that he died and his badly battered body was dumped in Sadr City.

As is so often the case in Iraq these days, the details are difficult to corroborate, but they fit a pattern.

According to human rights organisations in Baghdad, 'disappearances' - for long a feature of Iraq's dirty war - have reached epidemic proportions in recent months. Human rights workers, international and local, who asked not to be identified in order to protect their researchers in the city and their organisations' access to senior government officials, told The Observer last week that they have hundreds of cases on their books. They described the disappearances as the most pressing human rights issue in a country that is in the midst of a human rights disaster.

Billmon has more.

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