Do vermin have rights?
The Ministry of Interior spokesman said 115 charges of violations of human rights of Iraqis in detention centers have been forwarded to the courts.
Eight officers and two civilians were charged with violations. Nine were convicted and one was acquitted.
Today, 642 complaints are now being looked at by investigators, and so far they've found enough evidence to foward 43 cases to the courts.
Most charges were for being arrested without a court order, some for torture during interrogations and others for rape.
After the press conference held by the ministry was done, I had one more question. So I followed the spokesman to the corridor and called out to him, "We have inherited a legacy of total disregard for human rights from the previous regime. Does the ministry have any programs to raise awareness of the people handling the detainees, to impress upon them the importance of human rights and decent treatment?"
He looked at me with great disdain. "Are you looking out for the rights of the likes of them? What about the rights of their victims? Don't you care about them?"
That statement stopped me in my tracks, round-eyed! Was it a clever way to stop me pursuing the matter further? Or, perchance had they changed all the staff who used to work in the prisons under Saddam, and hired a brand new crew born and raised in Switzerland? "But your Excellency…. You are aware that only a percentage of those detained are guilty…. Are they all to be treated…."
Without answering, he turned his face and walked away.
He knows – as we do, that a very large percentage of the detainees are not guilty of other than being at the wrong place, at the wrong time – or of living in this or that neighbourhood. If a violent incident takes place in X Street, the usual procedure is that all the young men living in the vicinity are rounded up for interrogation. There may be as many as 50 in one sweep. They are taken--and God only knows when they are released.
It stands to reason that we cannot rely completely on monitoring and vigilance to stop the abuse of the detainees. The authorities must initiate programs focused on human rights to educate the security forces about what it means for a civilian to have rights, rights that they cannot violate.
At the moment the only good treatment comes from a condescending figure of authority, not from a written set of rules. To these authority figures, the people they have arrested are commoners and they will treat them well or otherwise – by their own choice.
Disturbingly, this looks far too much like the Saddam regime, when prisoners were regarded as vermin.
When will we have ground rules that say human life and dignity are absolute values?
ABOUT THIS BLOG
"Inside Iraq" is a blog updated by Iraqi journalists who have worked for McClatchy Newspapers. They are based in Baghdad. These are firsthand accounts of their experiences. Their complete names are withheld for security purposes.
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