A new study published in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports the extent of torture in Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein. Investigators report that nearly half of all families that belong to the Shia religious group, the largest in Iraq, experienced some form of torture.

The history of Iraq under under Saddam Hussein is filled with tales of torture against the majority Shia population in southern Iraq. But no one, until now, has done a study to assess how widespread the torture was.

Physicians for Human Rights in Boston surveyed nearly 2,000 men and women in three southern Iraqi cities. The group documented reports of torture over a 10-year period, starting with the Shia uprising against Saddam's minority Baath party during the first Persian Gulf War in 1991, and ending in 2002.

The organization found that 47 percent of Shia households had family members who had been hanged, mutilated or killed by Saddam's Fedayeen security forces. Many of them also had relatives who disappeared.

Physicians for Human Rights also uncovered evidence that a small number of doctors falsified records about causes of death at the hands of physicians.

The research was led by Lynn Amowitz, who says it is important now that a system of justice and accountability be established in Iraq, as well as a network of mental health services.

"You know, we found an extraordinarily high number of people in households that reported that they had attempted suicide within the last year," said Lynn Amowitz. "And a lot of this can be attributed to having seen family members abused."

An accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association says a U.N. declaration deploring human-rights abuses could become a "travesty" if no means of preventing those abuses is found.