Officials at Iraq's Human Rights Ministry are now able to make weekly visits to previously off-limits security detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near the capital, Baghdad, to make sure abuse documented in pictures taken by US soldiers there never happens again, they say.
The photos caused an international outcry and several soldiers have already been court martialed. The pictures released late in April showed, among other things, naked prisoners piled on top of each other in a pyramid, a hooded prisoner hooked up to wires and a naked prisoner cowering in front of dogs held by men in military uniforms.
Iraqi officials immediately paid a visit to security detainees following the US transfer of power to Iraqis on 28 June, said Saad Sultan, a human rights lawyer working with the ministry.
The ministry opened an advocacy office of lawyers and social workers earlier this spring to meet detainees, according to Baktiar Amin, the human rights minister.
The Human Rights Ministry was created by US-led administrators forming Iraq's first temporary government in November. "We were promised by those who came after the abuses (Iraqi officials) that those horrendous pictures would never come from Abu Ghraib again," Amin said on Monday at a press conference. "We are observing in the prison, but nothing (new) has come to our attention."
Following the transfer of power, Iraqi prison guards now watch over about 2,000 criminal prisoners at Abu Ghraib. US forces still watch over security detainees - another estimated 4,000 people, Amin said.
The Geneva Conventions classifications do not cover security detainees, although US officials have said that all prisoners are treated in accordance with internationally recognised conventions on war. Security detainees are those who are deemed a threat to Coalition forces.
Lawyers are now also allowed to visit any security detainee, Sultan told the press conference. "I assure you this can never happen again," Sultan said of the previous abuses. "In our first visit, we found the situation to be a very typical one. We didn't find anything that looked like the previous pictures."
While previous United Nations Security Council resolutions gave the "security file" to Coalition forces, the Human Rights Ministry is now working as a partner of US forces, Amin said. However, when it comes to the interrogation of security detainees, Iraqis are still not involved, he added.
"We were not a part of planning or executing the detention," Amin said. "But after [UN] Resolution 1546, we are partners in watching the Iraqi detainees."
Human Rights Ministry officials will soon open a court of five judges and five defence lawyers to hear the cases of criminal detainees.
Since the prisoner abuse scandal, hundreds have been transferred or released from Abu Ghraib. US forces still hold about 25 criminal detainees, said US Lt-Col Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the office of the Deputy Commanding General for Detainee Operations. All have been before a review board to determine whether they remain a threat to Coalition forces and whether they should continue to be held or released, Johnson said.
Hundreds more prisoners have received visits from relatives, many of whom complained previously that they did not know if their loved ones were dead or alive. Abu Ghraib prison, also notorious under former President Saddam Hussein for torture, is about 20 km west of the capital.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions