Jawad al-Bulani (photo: DoD Imagery)

Over 1,400 detainees were found in an Iraqi Interior Ministry (MOI) detention facility known as “Site 4″ by an inspection team on May 30, 2006. An inspection team uncovered cases of juveniles, who were raped to induce confessions, and a hook-and-pulley system for torturing detainees. [The Dissenter reported on this revelation a couple days ago.]

After the May 30 inspection, at least half of the detainees in the facility were transferred. According to a series of confidential and secret cables also published by WikiLeaks, the US pushed the Iraq government to hand down punishments for interrogators or police involved but experienced push back.

The shut down order for “Site 4,” an Interior Ministry 2nd National Police Division facility, came immediately following the May inspection by an Iraqi team supported by US military and civilian officials. However, the detention facility had been inspected on December 8, 2005, and February 16, 2006, according to a confidential cable sent out on the status of “Site 4.” US Political Counselor in Baghdad, Margaret Scobey, reports, “During the most recent inspection, the team discovered that conditions had not improved:  about 1,457 detainees, including 41 juveniles, were living in cramped, squalid conditions.” [It is highly likely inspectors were aware of torture going on in the prison but gave the facility three inspections before ordering to shut it down.]

The forty-one juvenile detainees were transferred into a Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) facility at Tobchi in Baghdad. As for the adult detainees, 20 were released, 245 were sent to MOI facilities (where they were likely abused again), 417 were sent to a Justice Ministry (MOJ) prison in Baghdad and 734 remained at “Site 4.” The transfers to MOJ and MOLSA detention facilities, according to Scobey, would improve conditions by “reducing overcrowding and the likelihood of mistreatment.”

In July 2006, those 700 detainees were still in “Site 4.” The US Embassy Rule of Law Coordinator reported those detainees were “suffering from scabies and unsanitary conditions.”

A Major Crimes Task Force (MCTF) assisted by the FBI and other US investigators interviewed 77 adult and juvenile detainees. They reported their jailers: forced them to confess to crimes they did not commit, beat them with wooden sticks or subjected them to electric shocks and raped them or sodomized them with objects. Juveniles reported being raped “multiple times by the same person or persons.”

The cable indicates a videotape was found by the MCTF that shows:

…A prisoner bound and suspended, pleading for mercy.  As an electric charge is administered to his bound hands, his screams muffle out all background noise.  Other physical evidence includes a hoist apparently used to suspend prisoners, wooden sticks to beat them, and photographs taken by the MCTF showing injuries suffered by the prisoners.

The MCTF’s investigation identified ten MOI employees who had committed egregious offenses, including Commander of the Second Division of National Police Major General Mahdi Sabeh.

Arrest orders were issued on June 27, 2006, for 52 people, including Mahdi. But, as late as May 2007, Mahdi, according to a secret cable, had still not been arrested. The commander, who committed “human rights violations and extrajudicial killings during his service,” was “valuable” to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, and so a request to execute an outstanding warrant for Mahdi’s arrest was “rebuffed.” In fact, in April 2007, General David Petraeus pressed Maliki to “take action” but nothing happened as a result of pressure.

Interior Minister Protects Commander Suspected of Torture

Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani blocked the arrest of torture suspect Mahdi on March 11. “Pursuant to Section 134B of the Iraqi Criminal Code that allows a Minister to block the implementation of an arrest warrant if the suspected individual is conducting the official duties of his office,” Bulani ensured allegations against Mahdi were dismissed.

Additionally, Bulani informed the US Embassy the MOI Inspector General had conducted an investigation into “Site 4” before he took office in June 2006. The IG investigation recommended “eleven people be fired then brought to court.” Six who were recommended to be fired were on the MCTF list of “egregious offenders.” Mahdi was, perhaps not surprisingly, not among those implicated. Bulani claimed seven of the individuals implicated fled but a US official reportedly saw three of the individuals alleged to have fled at MOI facilities.

US Embassy officials discovered Bulani conducted a MOI legal review that found “there was not enough evidence to convict him.” The review happened after US officials pressured Bulani in November 2006 to bring officers indicted in the “Site 4” case into custody. Additionally, MOI Human Rights Director Mazen Kamel Al-Qoraishy told US Embassy officials on March 27, 2007, he did not know Bulani blocked an arrest warrant for Mahdi:

[Mazen] reported that MG Mahdi — believed to have directly ordered torture and other abuse — is now working in MoI’s intelligence division.  His only punishment for his alleged crimes has been the loss of four days of pay.  Mazen said that MG Mahdi was well-known for his corruption among ministry employees.  However he said, unfortunately, MG Mahdi has “high level political contacts” who protect him.  Mazen added that he has never received information regarding MG Mahdi’s alleged human rights violations, although he knew of the case.  Despite numerous continuing problems, Mazen said that he believes there is now better oversight of MoI detention facilities than there was in 2005 and early 2006 (ref B).  However, he noted that in early days a number of inspectors had been killed trying to investigate facilities and initiate oversight (ref C).

US diplomats believed Bulani was not cooperating because of Mahdi’s “close ties to the Shia political party SCIRI and its armed wing, commonly known as the Badr Corps. SCIRI supported the appointment of Bulani as Minister of Interior.” [The Badr Corps is known to have held many positions within MOI, which is one of the reasons why those found to have been tortured or murdered are often Sunnis.]

The Center for Strategic International Studies reported in December 2006, “On November 6, the Interior Ministry officially charged 57 employees with human rights crimes for their roles in the Site  4 abuses. They included 20 commissioned officers, 20 noncommissioned officers, and 17 policemen and civilians. The accused would face criminal trials in upcoming months and all were dismissed from their MOI jobs.” But, the cables call this into question.

As of November 17, Embassy officials were meeting with Bulani to discuss progress on the arrest warrants. The indicted officers had not been brought into custody yet. Bulani refused to promise arrests and said he had “ordered the commanders of all the indicted officers to ensure that they appear before the court.” He added, “It is the court’s job to prosecute.”

In January 2007, US diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad sent a cable, where he commented:

No significant action has yet been taken to remove those in the Shia-dominated leadership linked to corruption, illegal activities, and sectarianism. Despite months of US pressure, Bulani has failed to enforce arrest warrants against the fifty-seven police officers (including a major general) suspected of human rights violations at the Site 4 detention facility despite months of U.S. pressure.

Thus, it appears a number of officers implicated in case of “Site 4″ torture were shielded and managed to escape justice because of Bulani.

Inspections of Iraqi Detention Facilities

Joint inspections by Iraqi and US officials were actually suspended after the May 30 inspection of “Site 4.” US officials were concerned there could be consequences under the Leahy Amendment, a measure that obligates the US to take action if the US has knowledge of foreign security forces committing human rights abuses. They pushed for “written authorization for Iraq members of inspection teams to continue their inspections.”

The inspection team was dissolved for “reasons never clearly identified.” The Human Rights Ministry tried to conduct inspections, while officials pursued having a joint inspection team reinstated. But, facilities were hard to access for “security” and “logistics reasons.” Also, members of the Ministry inspection team were intimidated and threats of “reprisals” meant quality of the reports were low.

Finally, on November 4, 2006, just over five months later, Secretary General-designate of the Council Ministers Ali Al-Allak issued a directive that reinstated joint inspections of Iraqi detention facilities.

Maliki gave support for the establishment of an inspection committee. The Human Rights Ministry was to lead the efforts of the Iraqi government to inspect facilities. Maliki understood there were problems in detention facilities that needed to be addressed, however, he did not want results from the inspections to “be used against the government, particularly via the media.” A deputy chief of mission noted the inspections could help show the Iraq government was “proactive in addressing potential human rights abuses.”

As of September 2005, according to a secret cable, there were 572 reports of abuse by the Iraqi army and 283 reports of abuse by the Iraqi police. Five hundred and ninety-eight of those cases had been “supported.” The total number of victims was 1548 and 1250 had been “supported.”

Multinational forces had sent 135 letters to the Defense Ministry [75] and Interior Ministry [60] on reports of abuse or torture. A four-phase “transformation” program was even proposed to arrest the “serious institutional human rights abuses within the National Police.” The program was to focus on leadership retraining and police skill development. “Retrained brigades” were to be moved to areas outside of Baghdad. Oddly, there was no program to “address detention management at National Police headquarters where abuse” was a significant problem.