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Human Rights Watch: Torture 'Routine' at Secret Iraqi Detention Facility

Human Rights Watch says detainees held in a secret prison in Iraq were routinely tortured. The group is calling for a full investigation into the military-run facility. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo:

Human Rights Watch says Iraqi prisoners held at a secret detention facility just outside Baghdad were tortured on a regular basis. The group says Iraqi guards routinely abused the mostly Sunni inmates at a covert military-run prison at the old Muthanna airfield. Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch says the report is based on interviews with former inmates at the secret prison.

"[They] showed us various scars and injuries, ranging from scabs on their legs to welts on their backs from cable beatings," said Muscati. "They showed us finger-nails that had been pulled out and various other types of horrific abuses, and when we spoke with them, they told us similar accounts of how they were tortured.

Muscati said the prisoners also described being sodomized, deprived of air, hung upside down and given electric shocks. He added the abuses were often carried out to obtain confessions from the prisoners.

The rights group says it based its report on interviews with 42 of 300 inmates at the facility.

The prison was closed earlier this month after its existence became known. The prisoners have been either released or transferred to the Rusafa prison in Baghdad.

The suspects are accused of taking part in insurgent activity in the volatile Mosul area. Iraq's Human Rights Minister, Wijdan Salim, told journalists that incidents of abuse and torture at Muthanna would be investigated, but she strongly denied that it was a secret facility that was not being closely monitored.

She says that it is a mistake to say that there are secret prison facilities in Iraq, because all facilities are under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi judiciary, both on a supervisory and on a legal level.

The prison controversy has fueled sectarian tensions in a country dealing with a politically uncertain future after March parliamentary elections yielded no clear winner.

Sunni Arab opponents of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki say the now-closed facility was set up to persecute members of their community, and they accuse Mr. Maliki of being personally responsible for what took place there.

The prime minister denies that claim and calls that accusation part of a "smear campaign" against him.

Sunni Arab satellite channels interviewed former prisoners and their families who have described the alleged brutality and torture. Al Baghdadiya TV showed dozens of prisoners with scars and bruises that they claim were inflicted by prison guards.

The scandal is widely being compared to a prisoner abuse scandal sparked by photos of inmates at the former U.S.-run facility, Abu Ghraib.

Three members of the Iraqi security forces connected with the Muthanna facility were recently arrested and are being investigated for abuses.

Human Rights Watch is calling for a full investigation into the detention facility and the prosecution of those found guilty of misconduct.