22 July 2009
US detainees remain at risk as they are transferred to Iraqi custody

Hundreds of detainees held by the US military in Iraq are being put at risk of execution, torture or other ill treatment as they are transferred to Iraqi custody under an agreement made without safeguards.

The detainees are being transferred under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed by former President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which came into force on 1 January 2009. Under the agreement, US troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Some detainees in US custody have been sentenced to death after unfair trials and are likely to be executed if they are handed over to the Iraqi authorities.

Since the death penalty was reinstated by the Iraqi government in August 2004, hundreds of people have been executed. Often, confessions extracted under duress have been relied upon to convict defendants.

On 9 March Amnesty International issued urgent appeals following reports that 128 people were at imminent risk of execution. Despite international pressure, the Iraqi authorities executed 12 people on 3 May and more executions were carried out in subsequent weeks.

According to a statement by the US-led Multinational Force (MNF) on 17 June, 10,956 detainees were being held by the US in Iraq. The statement said that, since 1 January, the MNF had transferred nearly 700 detainees to Iraqi facilities after receiving more than 800 arrest warrants or detention orders.

The SOFA says that an Iraqi arrest warrant is required to transfer detainees to Iraqi custody. In June, Iraqi media reported that the Iraqi authorities had issued 807 arrest warrants for detainees in MNF custody, some 604 of whom had been transferred to Iraqi detention facilities.

Among those detained by the US military are former Ba’ath Party, security and military officials under former president Saddam Hussain. He was executed on 30 December 2006 after receiving an unfair trial.

Some of these former officials, including ‘Ali Hassan al-Majeed, Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Ta’i, Hussain Rashid al-Tikriti and ‘Abdul Ghani ‘Abdul Ghafour, currently in US military custody, have been sentenced to death for grave crimes committed during the rule of Saddam Hussain; they were sentenced after trials that failed to conform to international fair trial standards and are likely to be executed if they are transferred to the custody of the Iraqi authorities.

The use of torture in Iraqi detention centres and prisons is also one of Amnesty International’s major concerns. In mid-June hundreds of prisoners went on hunger strike at al-Rusafa detention facility in Baghdad complaining at prison conditions and against torture and other ill-treatment by prison guards, while Interior Ministry officials admitted that detainees had been subjected to human rights violations in prisons run by the ministry. In al-Diwaniyah Prison, in southern Iraq, an investigation by an Iraqi human rights body found evidence of torture of some detainees during interrogation in order to extract "confessions".

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