Iraqi torture survivors remain without answers over US reparations

Human Rights Watch has called for the US to acknowledge abuse and torture of 100,000 detained Iraqis

Twenty years after occupying Iraq, the United States has not made reparations for abuse and torture by US forces, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

The report says Iraqi victims “still have no clear path for receiving redress or recognition from the US government though the effects of torture are a daily reality for many Iraqi survivors and their families”.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have documented US abuse and torture, which are prohibited under US law, the 1949 Geneva conventions and the United Nations Convention against Torture.

After the 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US and its coalition partners arrested about 100,000 Iraqis, many of whom are survivors of mistreatment. The most shocking aspect of this affair was that in 2004, US military intelligence officers told the International Committee of the Red Cross that 70-90 per cent of Iraqis imprisoned in 2003 had been arrested by mistake.


Torture, rape and abuse by US forces were exposed in April 2004 with the release by CBS news of photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad. Two images were particularly riveting. Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh was shown with arms outstretched, wearing a black pointed hood and cloak. The second was of two US soldiers laughing after compelling hooded, naked Iraqi men to form a human pyramid.

Taleb al-Majli, a Baghdadi, who was arrested while visiting relatives outside the capital, was among these men. He told Human Rights Watch between November 2003 and March 2005 warders “subjected him to torture and ill-treatment, including physical, psychological and sexual humiliation”. He continues to suffer from serious psychological and physical effects of his treatment.He said detention “changed my entire being for the worse. It destroyed me and destroyed my family. It’s the reason for my son’s health problems and the reasons my daughters dropped out of school. They stole our future from us.”

The US embassy in Baghdad, the Iraqi bar association and the Iraqi high commission for human rights have refused to provide Mr al Majli with a letter identifying him as a former prisoner. In June 2023, HRW raised his case with the US defence department but received no response.

I was among a group of journalists who visited Abu Ghraib in 2003. On entering, we found hundreds of Iraqi men penned behind razor wire in an open courtyard. They cried out for help in Arabic and English. During our interview, Brig Gen Janice Karpinski dismissed queries about overcrowding and harsh conditions. She oversaw Abu Ghraib and 14 other detention facilities in Iraq until relieved of her post in 2004.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times