The Secret Iraq Files: The Human Cost
In a single sentence, the US military blocks its officers from investigating torture committed by Iraqi security forces, condemning thousands of prisoners handed by US forces to Iraqi authorities to potential mistreatment and even death.
FRAGO 242, issued in June 2004, just two months after the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, is smoking gun evidence that the US forces knowingly flouted international law in the way they dealt with the prisoners they took in the country.
The UN Convention on Torture blocks states from handing individuals to the authorities of another state where this would place them at serious risk of torture.
The decision to turn a blind eye to prisoner abuse, despite more than 1300 individual reports of torture made to senior American officers, is evidence that the US knew exactly what was happening to the prisoners it took in the country
Ending torture was one of the stated aims of the war in Iraq. For those being held in Iraq’s torture chambers, the order was more than a contradiction of these aims- it was a matter of life and death.
Adnan Awad Al Jumaili was arrested by Iraqi security forces on the May 17, 2007, on suspicion of involvement in armed attacks. He was taken to an Iraqi military base for interrogation, where he was visited four days later by a US military officer.
The officer photographed him and noted that he had “no visible physical injuries”. Eight days later, on May 29, another US military officer arrived at the jail, and noted that Adnan had bruises to his back and arms.
Despite these obvious signs of mistreatment, the US officer appears to have followed the 2005 order. A subsequent medical examination found no broken bones or internal injuries, but the following day, Adnan was dead.
A post-mortem revealed an appalling catalogue of serious injuries. His body was extensively bruised, and he had suffered from internal bleeding in the brain, neck, abdomen, and his lungs had suffered tearing.
The Iraqi ministry of defence ordered an investigation into Adnan’s death. Two guards stated that on the May 27, he had appeared to be in good physical condition, but had emerged from interrogation badly bruised and unable to stand. A guard reportedly struck him over the head with a fire extinguisher as he tried to stand.
An arrest warrant was issued against the Iraqi officer who had carried out the interrogation. The officer fled, and was finally arrested in 2008, a year after Adnan’s death. He was held for three months before being released for lack of evidence.
Adnan’s body was never returned to his family, but photographs of him taken before and after his death show the horrifying extent of his injuries. The pictures show his back is deeply bruised, and marked with angry welts.
Adnan’s story is one of the few cases of torture in Iraqi prisons that has been properly documented. It is, however, representative of the treatment received by thousands of prisoners held in Iraq.
It is also a graphic example of the human cost of the policy pursued by US troops in the country, best summed up by then-US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in November 2005.
Following an assertion by Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs-of-staff that US troops had an obligation “to intervene and stop” abuse committed in Iraqi prisons, Rumsfeld corrected his general.
“I don’t think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it,” Rumsfeld said. “It’s to report it.” It was a distinction that cost Adnan his life.