Iraq's prime minister said on Saturday there were no secret prisons in his country, denying an international rights watchdog's report of such a facility in Baghdad.
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday: "Elite security forces controlled by the military office of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq are operating a secret detention site in Baghdad."
"It is a lie," Maliki said in an interview with AFP.
"We don't have secret prisons, we don't have political detainees or secret detainees," he said, denying HRW assertions that elite forces were also torturing detainees with impunity at a different facility in the capital.
The security forces have faced similar allegations in the past, but the report details a pattern of abuse as recently as December despite promises of reform.
The claims by the rights group came a week after the Los Angeles Times reported some detainees at a prison in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone had been abused and held without charge for up to two years.
HRW said that in late November, Iraqi authorities moved nearly 300 detainees to a secret site within a military base known as Camp Justice in the Kadhimiyah neighborhood of north Baghdad, citing interviews it had conducted and classified government documents it obtained.
"The hurried transfers took place just days before an international inspection team was to examine conditions at the detainees' previous location at Camp Honor in the Green Zone," HRW said in a statement.
"This issue of the secret prisons was created by some politicians that belong to al-Qaeda and the Baathists," Maliki said, referring to members of the Baath party of executed dictator Saddam Hussein.
He said that some prisoners from northern Nineveh province had been transferred to a facility in Baghdad, where they had been inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Maliki added that detainees at such facilities were either from al-Qaeda, gang members or Baathist loyalists of Saddam, who was ousted in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
"We do not need secrecy, we speak and arrest, and judge according to the constitution," Maliki said.
"All the prisons were visited by international organizations and human rights groups," he added.
Citing interviews and classified government documents, HRW said the secret jails were under the control of the Iraqi army's 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade, and the Counterterrorism Service - both under the authority of the prime minister's office.
"Revelations of secret jails in the heart of Baghdad completely undermine the Iraqi government's promises to respect the rule of law," the group's deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said. "The government needs to close these places or move them under control of the justice system, improve conditions for detainees, and make sure that anyone responsible for torture is punished."
The group also called on the Iraqis to open the facilities for inspections and visits.