Torture, beating and sodomizing inmates with brooms or pistol barrels were the norm at an illegal prison run by a military unit under the command of the Iraqi prime minister's office, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, in a harrowing report reminiscent of the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib.
The watchdog interviewed 42 men who were recently transferred from a jail where they say the brutality took place to another detention facility in Baghdad, after details of misconduct were passed to the government.
Human Rights Watch described the prisoners' accounts of abuse as "credible and consistent," said there must be an independent and impartial investigation, and called for prosecutions at the highest level.
"The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna," the watchdog's deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said, referring to the west Baghdad prison where the men were held until recently.
"The government needs to prosecute all those responsible for this systematic brutality."
The men held at the prison were suspected Sunni Arab insurgents from the northern province of Nineveh, who were arrested between September and December last year, according to the HRW report.
The existence of the jail has caused alarm for Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose officials said it was shut two weeks ago after the abuse allegations were first published in the Los Angeles Times.
The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna
HRW Middle East director Joe Stork
According to HRW, prison guards hung blindfolded detainees upside down during interrogations, then kicked, whipped and beat them before placing a dirty plastic bag over suspects heads' to cut off their air supply.
When prisoners passed out, they were awoken by electric shocks to their genitals or other parts of the body, the report said.
The detainees, who were interviewed at the Al-Rusafa detention facility in Baghdad on April 26, told HRW that interrogators and security officials sodomized some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels.
Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards, according to the report, and said they were whipped with heavy cables, burned with acid and cigarettes, and had their teeth smashed.
One detainee, a former Iraqi army general who had been living in London but returned to Mosul after his son was detained, said his jailors refused to give him medicine for his diabetes and high blood pressure, and beat him severely.
"They applied electricity to my penis and sodomized me with a stick," the man, who is in a wheelchair, told Human Rights Watch. "I was forced to sign a confession that they wouldn't let me read."
Another detainee, who was 21, said interrogators threatened to rape his mother and sisters if he did not confess. During one torture session, guards made another detainee rape him.
"What happened at Muthanna is an example of the horrendous abuse Iraqi leaders say they want to leave behind," Stork said. "Everyone responsible, from the top down, needs to be held accountable."
The HRW report bore similarities with the abuse that took place at Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, in 2004, where a U.S. military unit tortured Iraqi prisoners in a scandal which shocked the world.
They applied electricity to my penis and sodomized me with a stick