| Signs of torture on a prisoner’s body in Iraq. (AFP)
Baghdad, Nov. 17 (Reuters): Iraq’s interior minister dismissed reports of prisoner abuse at a secret Baghdad bunker today, prompting a stern response from the US embassy in an affair that threatens to aggravate sectarian tensions.
Less than two hours after interior minister Bayan Jabor tried to justify his ministry’s actions in the case of 170 men found half starving and beaten in a ministry compound, the US embassy denounced such abuses.
“We do not tolerate any abuse of detainees in Iraq. Even one case is too much, anywhere,” embassy spokesman Jim Bullock said at an unscheduled appearance in Baghdad.
“We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security forces, facilities or ministries.
“The Iraqi government must take measures to ensure this kind of thing does not happen again.”
His statement appeared to be a direct response to Jabor, who earlier not only played down the affair, but also contradicted Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who was one of the first to acknowledge that abuses had taken place at the prison.
Jaafari has ordered an investigation.
The bunker was discovered by US forces during a raid on Sunday. Inside they found 173 men and teenage boys, many of them malnourished, beaten and showing signs of torture.
“The talk about this has been inaccurate,” a defiant Jabor said, his first public appearance since the scandal broke, adding that he had only commented on the issue because his aides had pressured him to do so.
He dismissed accusations that he had condoned torture.
His voice rose angrily as he dismissed a series of accusations, including that he had condoned torture by a feared Shia militia group linked to his ministry. He said only a handful of prisoners appeared to have been beaten.
“There were only five, or at most seven, who showed signs of having been beaten,” he said. “I don’t accept for any officer to even slap a prisoner.”
Most of the prisoners held in the bunker in a Baghdad district were Sunni Arabs.