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Friday, 24 December, 2004
Eyewitness: Taking detainee testimony in Iraq
US-led international forces in Iraq are currently holding thousands of Iraqi people suspected of involvement in the violent campaign against the Iraqi government and the occupying forces.

But some detainees complain of arbitrary detention and abusive treatment.

Peggy Gish, 62, is an American woman who has spent 13 months over the past two years logging the cases of Iraqi detainees with the ecumenical humanitarian group Christian Peacemaker Teams.

She told the BBC News website about her experiences.


Peggy Gish, left, listens to a testimony at Najaf Human Rights Centre (pic: CPT)
Peggy Gish, left, logging the cases of detainees

We were not allowed to go into prisons, so our contact was with the families of detainees and freed detainees. We got very careful testimonies.

We were hearing some of the same stories from people all over Iraq, so we were fairly certain what we were hearing was accurate.

We heard about very violent house raids in the middle of the night, in which US soldiers would storm in, and if the men did not get down immediately, they would knock them down and beat them.

Then their house would be ransacked, often with property damage.  Many would report that at the end of that time jewellery and money would be missing.  Then the men of the household would be taken away.

We take every allegation of abuse seriously and will fully investigate any specific allegations brought to us
LTC Barry Johnson
Detainee Operations,Multi-National Force, Iraq

We heard the same kind of details over and over from all around the country.

We talked to the US military about those house raids, and though they denied the soldiers would take money or gold, they did not deny that they would go in with 25 seconds of absolute fury and try to bring the people into submission very quickly.

Then we began to hear stories of a very violent interrogation process.  Men would report being kept in very painful positions for hours at a time, being deprived of sleep and water and food, some kept out in the hot summer sun for hours.

IRAQ PRISONERS
6,700 security detainees held by multinational forces in Iraq (Source: MNF)
10 major detention facilities in Iraq (source: Human Rights Watch, May 2004)
Most detainees held in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdadand Camp Bucca in Um Qasr (source:  Coalition Provisional Authoritydocument obtained by CPT in May 2004)
Many detainees first held in temporary facilities for initial or secondary interrogation (source: HRW)
Iraqi families also believe some detainees held outside Iraq in facilities in Qatar, Kuwait and Germany (source: CPT)

We also heard about sexual abuse and beatings when they were being questioned.  If they did not give information about an explosion or something they would be knocked down, kicked in the groin, and hurt in other ways.

These men were held in Abu Ghraib and in prisons across the country.  We think it is better since the Abu Ghraib scandal — we are not hearing the stories of overt sexual abuse — but people are still being humiliated and there is still a lot of physical brutality.

Many men are held because they happened to be on the street, even blocks away, from an explosion.  The US military would round up hundreds of men in the area to try to find the few that caused the blast.

In fact, we came to the conclusion that 80% to 90% of the prisoners had never been involved in any violent action.  This is an estimate that tallies with the estimates of other groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Some of the missing men the CPT believes are in the custody of US-led forces

A common reason for men to be detained is because an informant in the neighbourhood has given their name to US military and claimed that they are part of the resistance.

Informants get money for each name they give, and many people have told us that informants use the system to revenge personal grudges.

They say it is rather like life under Saddam Hussein.  Many Iraqis use an Arabic expression, "Same donkey, different saddle".

Back in December 2003, when we completed our first report, we sent copies to the US civilian and military authorities in Iraq.

We were received well, and we believe our reports helped make it difficult to cover up the abuses.

But we are frustrated that [reforms to detention techniques] have not gone any further despite the outrage.

CPT COMPLAINTS
Abuse reported by detainees at Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) detention facility, and initial intake facilities
Improvements since April 2004 but reports of abuse continue
Only a small proportion of detainees face criminal charges; remainder are in legal limbo
Difficult to find information on detainees or arrange visits, though situation improved
Final fate of detainees still in hands of Multinational Forces
Property taken in house raids not returned and no receipt given
Detainees report overcrowding, lack of medical facilities, poor food and water in detention facilities, but improvements reported

In general, since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, people do have more freedom of speech, more freedom of movement, and wages are a little higher, so there are some positives.

But in many ways things have got worse — there is less electricity and water, unemployment is at 50% or 60%, there is much more danger.  People are feeling very discouraged and fearful.

And in fact, people feel like it is less safe where there are multinational troops, because of the combat.

In fact, the last time I was there I started hearing people say the primary source of the violence was the US presence.

People were saying: "We think the US needs to leave right away, even if there is a civil war or a power grab — it couldn't be much worse than it is now.  At least we will be able to handle the situation ourselves."

There are still a few people that want the US to stay, but they're a very small minority now.


Interview by Becky Branford




Tuesday, 25 January, 2005

At-a-glance: Guantanamo Bay Britons

Four Britons held by the US in Guantanamo Bay have been returned to the UK.

Moazzam Begg, from Birmingham, and Martin Mubanga, Richard Belmar and Feroz Abbasi, from London, were held by the US for nearly three years.

US authorities have not brought charges against any of the Britons. Five other British nationals being held there were released in March 2004.



Feroz Abbasi, 24, from south London

Born in Uganda, he moved to Britain with his family when he was eight.

Feroz Abbasi
Feroz Abbasi has made no contact since 2003

The family based itself in Croydon, where Mr Abbasi attended Edenham High School.

After A-levels at the nearby John Ruskin college, he took a two-year computing course at Nescot College in Epsom.

According to reports he dropped out of this course to go travelling in Europe.

His mother said he converted to Islam after a mugging. He became more fervent, and his family last saw him in 2000, as he was leaving for Afghanistan.

He was reportedly detained by US forces in December 2001, in Kunduz in the north of the country.

In November 2002 the British Court of Appeal said it found his detention in Cuba "legally objectionable", but stopped short of forcing the government to intervene on his behalf.

His mother Zumrati Juma has said she is worried for his mental welfare and has not heard from him since late 2003.

Ms Juma, a nurse from Croydon, said he was just one of a number of idealistic young Muslims caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.



Richard Belmar, 25, from London

Mr Belmar was held by Pakistani authorities before being moved to Cuba. Said by his family to have converted to Islam, he travelled to Pakistan before the attacks of 11 September 2001.

It is believed he attended a Catholic school in north London, and converted to Islam in his teens, after his elder brother.

His family say he was a troublesome teenager, but after becoming a Muslim was polite and respectful.

Reportedly a former Royal Mail worker, he worshipped at Regent's Park mosque, close to his home in Maida Vale, London.

Richard Belmar
Richard Belmar wrote: "I hope everyone will believe in me."

The US authorities claim he was captured at an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan.

His detention seems to have started in February 2002.

His Catholic father Joseph Belmar told the Sunday Mirror he believed the authorities were trying to paint his son as a terrorist.

"They have said he was in Afghanistan in 1998 studying chemicals at the terrorists' base but I know he was in London," Mr Belmar told the paper.

The Sunday Mirror reported Richard Belmar wrote a letter from Guantanamo Bay saying: "I'm still alive. I have done nothing wrong against the US or Britain and I hope everyone will believe in me.

"I love you all and hope you will forgive me."



Moazzam Begg, 36, from Birmingham

The father-of-four from the Sparkbrook area was detained by the CIA in Pakistan in February 2002. He was moved to Cuba in February 2003.

Moazzam Begg
Moazzam Begg ran a book and video store

Mr Begg's father, Azmat Begg, has run a high-profile campaign for his son's release and travelled to the US in a bid to free him.

His family have been refused permission to visit, although they have been able to write.

Azmat Begg says he has not been told why his son was being detained.

Moazzam Begg was a law student and ran an Islamic book and video store in Birmingham.

Mr Begg said he had urged his son to move to Kabul with his wife and children to fulfil an ambition to build a school and help improve water supplies.

Following the American bombings, the family then fled the Afghan capital for Pakistan, where the arrest took place.

In a letter sent from Guantanamo Bay, he said he had been tortured, threatened with death and kept in solitary confinement since early 2003.

Interviews "were conducted in an environment of generated fear, resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods," he wrote.

"In this atmosphere of severe antipathy toward detainees was the compounded use of racially and religiously prejudiced taunts."



Martin Mubanga, 32, from north London

Mr Mubanga has joint Zambian and British nationality. His family moved to the UK in the 1970s. He is a former motorcycle courier and was raised as a Catholic before converting to Islam in his 20s.

Martin Mubanga
Martin Mubanga is a former motorcycle courier

He went to Pakistan in October 2000 to attend an Islamic school and visit friends.

According to the Daily Telegraph, after the fighting in Afghanistan in 2001 Mr Mubanga told his family he had lost his British passport, but as a dual British and Zambian citizen used his other passport to travel from Pakistan to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, to stay with his sister.

Not long after his arrival there he told his parents he had heard news reports that someone with his name had been arrested in Afghanistan and he was concerned an Islamic extremist was using his missing British passport.

He was held in Zambia, along with his sister, before the authorities there placed him in the custody of the Americans. His sister was released.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Mr Mubanga alleges torture during his detention at Guantanamo Bay. In July 2004 he made two allegations of ill-treatment by the Americans during a visit from a Foreign Office official.

He says an interrogator stood on his hair, he was exposed to extreme temperatures and he was forced to clean up his own urine after he wet himself while shackled.



Wednesday, 26 January, 2005

UK police release Guantanamo four

The four British men who returned home from Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday have been released without charge by police.

Clockwise from top left: Moazzam Begg, Martin Mubanga, Feroz Abbasi and Richard Belmar
The four were held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly three years

Moazzam Begg, Martin Mubanga, Feroz Abbasi and Richard Belmar left Paddington Green police station on Wednesday night, Scotland Yard said.

The men, from Birmingham and London, had been questioned by anti-terrorist officers in the UK after being held at the camp in Cuba for three years.

The four had been accused by the US of having links to al-Qaeda.

Family reunion

They are now being reunited with their families at a location of their choice, police said.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "Shortly before 9pm four men arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on January 25 were released without charge.

"This followed liaison between police and the Crown Prosecution Service."

He said the men had been interviewed by anti-terrorist officers after being arrested under section 41 of the act, which referred to the alleged involvement in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.

Lawyer Louise Christian
They should be treated as torture victims

Mr Abbasi, 24, Mr Belmar, 25, Mr Mubanga, 32, all from London and Mr Begg, 36, from Birmingham, returned to the UK on Tuesday evening in an RAF plane.

Washington had claimed all four were "enemy combatants" who trained at camps run by al-Qaeda.

The Pentagon says they were freed after the UK government promised they would not be a threat to the national security of the US or any of its allies.

Earlier on Wednesday, Louise Christian, lawyer for Mr Abbasi and Mr Mubanga, said the detainees' families were "desperate" to be reunited with their loved ones.

But she said they had turned down the chance to see their relatives in custody as a police officer would have been present.

She said they wanted to be reunited in private.

Asked about claims that the men had been tortured while in US custody, she said: "It is difficult for torture victims to talk about the torture. I am very worried about them.

"They should be treated as torture victims."

Legal action

She said Mr Abbasi had: "an air of unreality about him. He doesn't know where he is.

"Like all victims of torture he's finding it difficult to talk about it."

Her other client, Mr Mubanga, was also "very traumatised", she said.

The lawyer for Mr Begg and Mr Belmar said the four men were victims of torture needing treatment and rehabilitation.

"I can guarantee you we will sue the American government," Clive Stafford Smith added.



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For archive purposes, this article is being stored on TheWE.cc website.