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Widespread Torture of Iraqi Prisoners Feared as Reports Emerge of Prisoner Abuse By U.S. In Mosul

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Allegations have emerged from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that American troops are routinely torturing Iraqi detainees there. We speak with the British lawyer who says he received statements from two Iraqis describing the abuse by U.S. soldiers. [includes rush transcript]

Months after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal shocked the world, allegations have emerged from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul that American troops are routinely torturing Iraqi detainees there.

British attorney Phil Shiner says he has statements from two Iraqis who said they were hooded, stripped naked, beaten unconscious and doused with cold water. One was threatened with sexual assault.

The U.S. government has maintained abuse of prisoners in Iraq was mainly confined to a few rogue soldiers at Abu Ghraib.

Abuse by US soldiers in Baghdad and Basra has been well-documented, but these new claims from the north of the country are renewing fears that torture in US prisons in Iraq has been systematic and widespread.

  • Phil Shiner, a British lawyer who says he had uncovered evidence that U.S. troops have tortured detainees in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. He is an attorney with the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Phil Shiner is with us now from Birmingham, England, the British lawyer who says he has uncovered evidence of this kind of torture. Welcome to Democracy Now!

PHIL SHINER: Good afternoon.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you us with. Can you tell us exactly what you learned and who you learned it from?

PHIL SHINER: Well, I should make clear that I had a caseworker in Iraq, because I have going on here in the U.K. what is a huge test case concerning 40 or so killings and torture cases which took place in the period of occupation. So, after the war was over — and my caseworker was in Iraq and did work on that for me, and was asked to go and see an organization and meet with a lawyer from Mosul. Now, what’s — what has emerged from that is horrific, because here you have an organization here — an organization in Mosul and a lawyer who have been carefully documenting and recording statements of Iraqi civilians who have been taken to the facility which no one seemed to know about at Mosul, and you have a human rights lawyer then detained and tortured because he was doing his job as a human rights lawyer, no more, no less, and what he was trying do was document these cases as a lawyer. And the allegations that I have put to the Pentagon and to the Ministry of Defense are in some respects very, very similar to what we have from Abu Ghraib. I could read out, if would you like me to a short passage from one of the statements. Because he says he was handcuffed and hooded, and then taken to an unknown place, which is called the disco. This is what people in Mosul now call it where they played very loud music as one of the means of torture. They left me standing for hours handcuffed and hooded which made me feel quite disorientated. Then I was kicked very hard in my stomach which was followed by continuous beating with a stick and with their boots until I fell unconscious. I only woke up after they poured over my head very cold water. And he goes on to say the next day, I saw a young man of 14 years of age, bleeding from his anus and lying on the floor. He was Kurdish and his name was Hama. I heard the soldiers talking to each other about the guy. They mentioned that the reason for the bleeding was inserting a metal object in the anus. I suspected this was caused by sexual assault but could not confirm it. That’s an engineer who was detained. The lawyer comes up with similar allegations, and he makes clear that when he was released, he — he organized a public conference in Mosul trying to do something about this, and but, of course, given the circumstances in Mosul it’s not until now and the fact that my caseworker was able to meet up with them, that they have had an opportunity to put this in the public domain.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about prison abuse now in Mosul, which is not Abu Ghraib. How much attention has this gotten?

PHIL SHINER: Well, it was front page news in one newspaper last Tuesday, and it was on one of our main TV stations linked with the story about Seymour Hersh’s book. But it has to be said that many people in the media just don’t seem to be that interested. They seem to think, oh, well it’s just Iraqis. We’ve have heard it all before from Abu Ghraib, and it’s not really had the interest that I think it warrants, to me. It sounds like if anyone thinks that this — these issues of torture and humiliation of prisoners is confined to Abu Ghraib, well, they’re wrong. It seems to be happening at Mosul. I understand that Mosul is not the only place that it was happening at, that there are other cities where the same stories might be told. So, it seems to me that what Seymour Hersh is saying in his book is absolutely right. This is a systematic policy, and to suggest that Abu Ghraib is the responsibility of the few low-ranking soldiers to me, just sounds absurd. This clearly was known about at the very top.

AMY GOODMAN: You can explain again where the Iraqi lawyer was when he was taken? How long was he held and where is he now?

PHIL SHINER: He’s now back at his organization. I understand that the statement that I have is at 3:00 a.m. a group of soldiers of U.S. Soldiers came to his home and arrested him and took him from his home. And he was detained for five days.

AMY GOODMAN: Is he planning to sue?

PHIL SHINER: Yes, they are. They’re all planning to sue.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean in Iraq right now?

PHIL SHINER: They’re planning to sue in the U.S. I will be instructing U.S. Lawyers shortly to use the alien tort claims act to bring a claim for damages there in the U.S., apart from anything else I’m doing here in the U.K., to raise these issues. One point I’d like to make is that it’s never enough for the U.K. to say, oh, this is nothing to do with us, it’s all the U.S. Well the U.S. hasn’t signed up to the international criminal court statute and they flagrantly disregard international humanitarian law, and Geneva conventions. But nevertheless, we the U.K., we have blood on our hands to the same extent. We’ve killed people, and we have tortured and killed people, and we can’t just turn up to war with the U.S., particularly when it seems absolutely clear that that was an illegal war. We cannot just turn up and then when the U.S. tortures and kills people for no reason at all, we cannot just turn around and say, well, it has nothing to do with us, that’s all the U.S. We have our own clear legal responsibility in circumstances where we go to war and occupy Iraq with the U.S.

AMY GOODMAN: Has the British government responded?

PHIL SHINER: No. Not yet. The Pentagon has responded by denying these allegations, but then, of course, they would.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Phil Shiner, the British lawyer who says he’s uncovered U.S. soldiers have tortured detainees, not just in Baghdad but Mosul as well. He’s an attorney with the Birmingham based public interest lawyers, where we are speaking to him now. Thank you for being with us.

PHIL SHINER: Thank you.

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