HRW accuses US of failing to compensate Iraqi Abu Ghraib survivors

HRW accuses US of failing to compensate Iraqi Abu Ghraib survivors
3 min read
25 September, 2023
In a new report, Human Rights Watch has highlighted the ongoing trauma of Iraqi survivors of torture at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison.
US forces held 100,000 Iraqis prisoner between 2003 and 2009 [Getty]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Washington of failing to provide compensation or other redress to victims of torture at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison and other US-run prisoners in Iraq.

"Twenty years on, Iraqis who were tortured by US personnel still have no clear path for filing a claim or receiving any kind of redress or recognition from the US government," Sarah Yager, Washington director at HRW, said.

In a statement released on Monday, the US-based rights group said that 100,000 Iraqis were held prisoner by the US and its allies between 2003 and 2009, with many documented cases of torture and abuse taking place.

The US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, dominating the country until 2011 when American troops officially withdrew.

HRW added that even though Iraqis have come forward to give accounts of their ill-treatment, the US has given them "little recognition" and "no redress".

Taleb al-Majli, who was held at Abu Ghraib prison between November 2003 and March 2005, told HRW that US forces had subjected him to "physical, psychological, and sexual humiliation".

He said he was one of the Iraqi men seen in a notorious photo of a pyramid of naked, hooded prisoners at Abu Ghraib which caused an outcry around the world in 2004.

"Two American soldiers, one male and one female, ordered us to strip naked," al-Majli said. "They piled us prisoners on top of each other. I was one of them."

Arrested 'by mistake'

He said that US forces had rounded him up arbitrarily while raiding his uncle's village in October 2003.

"They took boys and old men from the village. I told them I'm a guest from Baghdad, I live in Baghdad and just came to visit my uncle. They put a cover on my head and tied my wrists with plastic zip ties, then loaded me into a Humvee."

In a 2004 report to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the US military admitted that between 70 and 90 percent of people in its custody were arrested "by mistake".

The torture began immediately after Al-Majli arrived at Abu Ghraib, a few days after he was captured.

"They took away our clothes. They mocked us constantly while we were blindfolded with hoods over our heads. We were completely powerless," he said. "I was tortured by police dogs, sound bombs, live fire, and water hoses."

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'They stole our future from us'

Al-Majli was eventually released, without charge, after enduring 16 months at Abu Ghraib. In the years that followed, HRW said that he suffered severe mental and physical trauma as well as poverty, biting his hands and wrists to cope with the mental trauma he endured. He still does this, 18 years after being released.

"It became a mental health condition," he said. "I did it in jail, and after I left jail, and I keep doing it today. I try to avoid it, but I can't. Until today, I can't wear short sleeves. When people see this, I tell them it's burns. I avoid questions."

Al-Majli added that he was unable to take care of his children, who suffered their own health problems and dropped out of school, following his release.

"They stole our future from us," he said.

Al-Majli was unable to make a claim against the US military or seek redress through the Iraqi justice system.

Human Rights Watch wrote to the US Department of Defence last June outlining his case but received no response despite repeated follow-up attempts.