How Abu Ghraib Lives On

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The Pentagon says it has instituted reforms to prevent the detainee abuse that occurred in the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison scandal from ever happening again. But in a scathing 48-page report released on Monday, Amnesty International concludes that whatever reforms have been put into effect are clearly not doing the job: Mistreatment of detainees in Iraq, particularly by Iraqi security forces, is still widespread, Amnesty argues.

The U.S.-led Multinational Force also is turning a blind eye to torture "increasingly being committed by Iraqi security forces," the report charges. Former detainees who were tortured or witnessed abuse of others by Iraqi authorities, it states, "have told Amnesty that such incidents occurred with the knowledge or even in the presence of U.S. troops." A lawyer for four Palestinians who are long-time residents of Iraq told the human rights group that his clients, arrested by the Iraqi Interior Ministry's Wolf Brigade paramilitary force last May 12, were beaten with cables, shocked with electricity and had their faces burned with lighted cigarettes to extract confessions (later recanted) for bomb attacks. The four men "alleged too that a U.S. military officer was present at one time in the room in which they were being interrogated," according to the report. Amnesty researchers tell TIME, however, that they don't know if the men also were being tortured when the U.S. officer was present.

Insisting that "the human rights situation in [Iraq] remains dire," Amnesty's report also says that as of last November over 14,000 prisoners considered security threats — and rounded up primarily by U.S. forces — were being held at Abu Ghraib, three other U.S. detention centers and a number of smaller temporary internment camps in Iraq. "The vast majority" of these detainees, Amnesty claims, have never been tried or charged and have no way to challenge their imprisonment in court.

Asked to comment on the report, a Pentagon spokesman in Washington said U.S. soldiers in Iraq "are required to comply with all U.S. laws and treaty obligations in their treatment of detainees. When there have been abuses those violations are taken seriously, acted upon promptly, investigated thoroughly, and the wrongdoers are held accountable." U.S. military officers in Baghdad insist they're following United Nations Security Council resolutions, the Geneva Convention and Iraqi law in their handling of suspects that American or Iraqi forces capture in military operations. They say each detainee's case is regularly reviewed both by U.S. officers and Iraqi government officials to determine if the person should be released, remain imprisoned because he's a threat, or be tried by Iraqi courts. But the human right organization isn't persuaded. "To hold this number of people without any possibility that they will be allowed to confront the charges against them," says William Schulz, executive director for Amnesty International USA, "is about as fundamental an abuse of human rights as you can get."