Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that Iraqi authorities were still running a jail they said had been shut over a year ago after reports of prisoners being beaten and electrocuted, but the government denied this, saying the site was empty.
The New York-based watchdog and other critics of the administration of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accuse it of pushing Iraq back towards authoritarianism by cracking down on protests, harassing opponents and torturing detainees.
The rights group called for Baghdad to start an independent investigation into allegations of torture and mistreatment, as well as other issues, at Camp Honor and other jails.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the prison, known as Camp Honor, is inside Baghdad’s heavily-fortified Green Zone, an area that houses most government offices and foreign embassies.
Camp Honor is a former U.S. military base of more than 15 buildings that was handed over to Iraqi forces in 2006. The last U.S. forces left the country in December.
“Iraqi security forces are arresting people without trial or known charges, and hiding them away in incommunicado sites,” Joe Stork, HRW’s deputy Middle East director, said in a statement released by the rights group.
“The Iraqi government should immediately reveal the names and locations of all detainees, promptly free those not charged with crimes, and bring those facing charges before an independent judicial authority.”
A spokesman for Iraq’s human rights ministry told Reuters that the information received by Human Rights Watch was inaccurate and politically motivated.
“Camp Honor was closed at the start of 2011 and all inmates were transported to other official jails,” Kamil Ameen said.
“Last week a monitoring team from the human rights ministry went to Camp Honor detention center and found it totally empty.”
Human Rights Watch said its latest report was based on interviews with 35 former prisoners, witnesses, family members, and government officials.
The report alleged that, in addition to Camp Honor, there were two other secret prisons inside the Green Zone.
Ameen said the ministry would not “sit on its hands” if it had reports of secret detention facilities.
Human Rights Watch said in a Feb. 1 report that security forces were torturing inmates at Camp Honor, citing interviews with former detainees.
As well as electrocution, asphyxiation and beatings, the group said prisoners were packed into windowless cells that “reeked of human excrement”.
Former detainees at the facility told HRW last year that “interrogators beat them, hung them upside down for hours at a time, administered electric shocks to various body parts, including their genitals, and asphyxiated them repeatedly with plastic bags put over their heads until they passed out.”
London-based Amnesty International also said in a February 2011 report that Iraq operates secret jails and routinely tortures prisoners to extract confessions that are used to convict them.
Torture was widespread in Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein, who was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and executed in 2006.
Disclosures in 2004 that U.S. jailers had abused and sexually humiliated Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison outraged many Iraqis.