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According to the Human Rights Watch, judges in Iraq have been routinely dismissing allegations of torture and convict terrorism suspects on confessions that are supposedly coerced. As thousands of alleged ISIS members have been arrested, concerns for torture have risen in Iraq as trials continue. Although the Iraqi Constitution prohibits all forms of psychological and physical torture as well as claims that any confession made under torture will not be relied on, judges have failed to acknowledge this or request fair retrials when evidence of torture is provided. Additionally, lawyers in Iraq’s counterterrorism court have claimed that no interrogators have been questioned about torture allegations despite claims and investigations of defendants. Lawyers must wait to be appointed to defend accused terrorists to avoid being labeled as ISIS lawyers by security forces and the legal system facing potential arrest. The Iraqi legal system is ignoring established procedures and depending on torture to convict suspected terrorists and continue to stray away from a democratic system.
Lama Fakih is the deputy Middle East director for the Human Rights Watch and reports on the ongoing situation in Iraq, “Torture is rampant in Iraq’s justice system, yet judges lack instructions for responding to torture allegations,” she continues, “Defendants, including ISIS suspects, won’t be able to get a fair trial so long as the security forces can freely torture people into confessing.” In 2014, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq reported that “judges regularly fail to take any action when defendants raised allegations before the court that they had been subjected to torture in order to force confessions in relation to the crimes for which they were standing trial.” The judges actions are normalizing torture in Iraq and could very well trickle to other cases aside from terrorism charges. Lama Fakih says, “When judges convict based on coerced confessions and disregard allegations of torture, they are sending a message to the security forces that torture is a valid investigative tool.”
An anonymous lawyer provided a narrative detailing their experience with confirmed torture and the judges, “I got the judge to order a forensic report, which confirmed torture. I told the judge that because my client was tortured he should get a retrial. My client told the judge he was innocent. Before I knew it, the judge filed a complaint against me for “harassment of the court and interfering in the court’s work” and hospitalized me for two days before releasing me without charge. In the meantime, he sentenced my client to death.”
Iraq must revert back to their legal guidelines to provide fair and just trials despite what the defendant is being charged for. Although there is obvious tension between ISIS members and the Iraqi government, the courts must work to discourage the use of torture to maintain the sanctity of the legal system and ensure the fairness to all of those accused of having ties with terrorist organizations. Additionally, laws must be passed to observe and investigate defendants following investigation and interrogation to check for evidence of torture before potential damage heals. Iraq must reform their current system before it is normalized and becomes widespread across the country.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, active terrorist organizations have plagued Iraq. Al Qaeda, and eventually ISIS, have continuously destabilized the nation following attempts of democratization. Despite attempts of Western support, Iraq has struggled to maintain a legitimate democracy and the most recent allegations of torture-forced confessions prove that to this day the government is struggling to establish a fair and free society.
Iraq has had a turbulent history for decades. The country has made significant strides in the advancement of human rights since Hussein was overthrown, but face and will face many challenges that threaten stability and justice.