Iraq's minister of interior has undertaken a series of initiatives to rid his special police units of prisoner abuses and human rights violations -- including firing three top special police commanders and disbanding a rogue internal affairs unit, said the U.S. general who advises the minister on training and operations.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson detailed those and other measures taken to reform the ministry's operations and deal with charges that Iraqi police have formed death squads and tortured prisoners at secret sites.
The special police commanders who were dismissed headed the 2nd Brigade of Commandos and the Public Order Division's 1st and 2nd brigades.
The 2nd Brigade of Commandos, known as the Wolf Brigade, had a fearsome reputation matching its nickname. It has been renamed the Freedom Brigade to soften its image, Gen. Peterson said.
Gen. Peterson said he had recommended the brigade commander's dismissal after the commander told a coalition adviser that it was necessary to inflict pain on detainees to get them to talk. Interior Minister Bayan Jabr immediately obliged, he said.
In the southern province of Basra, Gen. Peterson said, the minister disbanded a 136-member unit created to investigate police abuses after it was found to be "very corrupt, taking bribes, and hindering and essentially preventing Internal Affairs from doing its job."
Gen. Peterson also said the Interior Ministry now intends to turn over all detainees to the Justice Ministry within 48 hours of their arrest. All prisoners will be transferred from small detention facilities, often run by local brigades, to three large facilities that will be placed under Justice Ministry control, he said.
"I consider this a very positive measure," Gen. Peterson said. "The minister acknowledges he does not have the ability to detain them properly."
In November, U.S. forces found 166 prisoners held under cramped conditions at a bunker in a Baghdad area called Jadrya. Many were suffering from hunger or abuse.
A subsequent inspection of Eagles Prison, known to authorities as Command Site 4, also resulted in charges of torture. Gen. Peterson said the reports had been exaggerated and that only three detainees at that facility bore signs of torture. Hundreds of prisoners since have been moved from the overcrowded facility, he said.
"Inevitably there will be a portion [of Iraqi police] that are not abiding by the rule of law and not protective of human rights," the general said.
These problems, he said, are being addressed vigorously through dismissals, disciplinary measures and training courses designed to instill respect for human rights.
Gen. Peterson said U.S. military and embassy personnel had formed a group to "make recommendations to the minister to address concerns over sectarianism, detainee abuse and militias that could be active in his organization." He said Mr. Jabr was investigating charges of hit squads inside or connected with the Interior Ministry.
He said a joint U.S.-Iraqi investigation is looking into charges of abuse at Jadrya and the Eagles prison and that the Interior and Justice ministries were inspecting other detention facilities.
U.S. forces are investigating charges by opposition politicians and a former general in the police special forces about several more secret prisons in Iraq, he said. Numerous tips have been given, some to a confidential hot line, but no sites have been found.
The general, who has served since October as the chief U.S. military officer attached to the Interior Ministry, said he meets with Mr. Jabr several times a week.
"I told him more than 44 articles have appeared in the international press that have condemned him, sectarianism and corruption," Gen. Peterson said. "[I told him] he needs to be serious and take measures to address [charges of] infiltration, Iranian influence and corruption."
Gen. Peterson said the minister is taking the criticisms "very personally," but is responding positively.
"I don't know if he can put in place" lasting changes before a new government is formed in the coming weeks, he said, "but I am not willing to wait until the next government arrives to address these issues."
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