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Iraq urged to investigate secret prison allegations

Amnesty International has called on the Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations that security forces tortured hundreds of Sunni detainees at a secret prison in Baghdad.The LA Times newspaper on Sunday reported Iraqi officials as saying that more than 100 of the facility's 431 prisoners were tortured using electric shocks, suffocation with plastic bags and beatings. Prisoners reportedly revealed that one man had died in January as a result of torture.Amnesty International expressed concerns at Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's claim that he was unaware of abuses at the prison, which he has vowed to shut down. "The existence of secret jails indicates that military units in Iraq are allowed to commit human rights abuses unchecked," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director."Prime Minister al-Maliki's claim that he was unaware of abuses cannot exonerate the authorities from their responsibilities and their duty to ensure the safety of detainees." The prisoners were detained by Iraqi forces in Nineveh province in October as part of an operation targeting alleged Sunni fighters. Iraqi security forces reportedly obtained a warrant to transfer the men to Baghdad, where they were held in isolation in a secret detention facility at the old al-Muthanna airport.Their whereabouts came to light in March after concerns were raised by relatives of the missing men."Al-Maliki's government has repeatedly pledged to investigate incidents of torture and other serious human rights abuses by the Iraqi security forces, but no outcome of such investigations has ever been made public," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui. "This has encouraged a widespread culture of impunity but this time, Iraq must investigate the torture allegations thoroughly and bring to justice those responsible for carrying out any abuses."Iraqi officials have said that 75 prisoners have already been released from the secret jail, while 275 have been transferred to normal prisons.In 2005, 168 detainees were found in appalling conditions at an Iraqi secret detention facility in the al-Jadiriya district of Baghdad. The findings of an investigation into the incident launched shortly afterwards were never made public and no one has been prosecuted in connection with the abuses that took place at the prison.