U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she deplores the reported abuse in custody of Iranians rounded up in protests of the country's disputed June 12 presidential election. Clinton discussed the situation in Iran with visiting British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.
The comments by Clinton at a press appearance with her British counterpart were the first by a senior U.S. official on the multiple reports from Iran this week that detainees in the crackdown by the Tehran government may have been tortured, and some killed, while in detention.
Clinton hailed what she termed the "incredible courage" of Iranian election protestors in standing up against what they viewed as an infringement of their rights, and said the alleged abuse of prisoners is deplorable.
"We deplore that," said Hillary Clinton. "We believe that it is imperative for the Iraqi authorities to release political prisoners, to treat them appropriately and humanely, and it is something that is very much telling, because their continuing detention and abuse of political prisoners certainly suggests that the political situation inside of Iran has not yet resolved itself."
Foreign Secretary Miliband, for his part, said Britain and the United States had been at pains to avoid interference in the election process and its aftermath to avoid giving substance to Iranian claims of meddling. But at the same time, he said Iran has a responsibility to uphold universal human rights values including the protection of prisoners.
"We await further details of the alleged abuses," said David Miliband. "But it remains a signature part of our approach that without fear or favor, we do point to human rights abuse wherever it takes place. And the most recent Foreign Office Annual Report on Human Rights highlighted Iran as one of the countries of concern, and obviously, we've been looking with very great care at the latest revelations that have come out."
On another issue, Clinton said the United States is urging restraint on both sides in a confrontation between Iraqi security forces and Iranian dissidents in a camp east of Baghdad occupied by the Iranian exiles since before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Iraqi forces invaded the camp, home to members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq or MEK, on Tuesday causing numerous casualties and according to reports disputed by Iraqi officials, several deaths.
U.S. troops had provided security for the camp but ceded control in February of this year with the transfer of full authority in the country from coalition forces to the Iraqi government. Clinton said Iraq must uphold commitments to the United States that the MEK members will not be mistreated.
"We are very clear that we expect that the Government of Iraq, now that it has assumed this security responsibility, will fulfill its obligations, to show restraint, will not forcibly transfer anyone to a country where such a transfer might result in the mistreatment or the death of that person based on their political affiliation and activities," she said. "But it is now the responsibility of the Government of Iraq."
Earlier Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said reports of casualties among camp residents are disturbing and said the United States is seeking more information from the Iraqi government.
The MEK supported Iraq in its 1980's war against Iran and enjoyed protected status under Saddam Hussein, but it is viewed with deep suspicion by the current Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The United States has long classified the MEK as a terrorist group, dating back to attacks by the group in the 1970's that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians advising the government of the late Shah of Iran.