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Torture In Iraq Cannot Go Unpunished

ICE Graveyard 2/05/2016 Esteban Beltrán

"Jo, that one should knock them out." Laughter.
That is what happens at the end of a video showing five Spanish soldiers kicking and beating two prisoners in a Spanish military base in Iraq in 2004. The images are chilling.
A soldier asks one of the prisoners to get up, as the others stomp on him and position him in a way that gives them clearer shots. How would these soldiers justify their actions? What could have been going through their minds that would compel them to do something like this?
In this torture case, detainee records have vanished, witnesses have retracted their accounts, and the courts have decided not to consider certain testimonies -- all this sounds like something out of a horror movie. But what took place in the Spanish base in Al Diwaniyah, Iraq, in 2004 -- and the following years -- was fact, not fiction.
Early on, we started to suspect that there was misconduct. But at that time, it was mere suspicion. By 2013, we had approached Minister of Defense, Pedro Morenes, and expressed our concerns over the violence depicted in the video, and asked for an exhaustive and independent investigation into these events to take place in civilian courts, not military courts.
In late 2015, something happened that was key to our investigation: We gained access to wiretap transcripts, testimonies, and photographs of the alleged perpetrators in the brutal beating.
Soon, our suspicions were confirmed: The torture investigation was replete with irregularities. For example, there were two witnesses who had recognized the soldiers responsible for the beating. One of them (the person who had filmed the incident) later renounced his claims and said that he knew nothing about the incident and that he had been confused. The suspicions were deepened by the fact that there was a parallel investigation into threats that had been made against that witness. The testimony of the other witness, who watched an unpixelated version of the video, simply wasn't taken into account in the military court investigation. Just like that.
Another example: The prisoner registry, which would have allowed for the victims to be identified, vanished. Its disappearance was not investigated. In addition, some of the information on detainees in the Spanish base was provided by a report prepared by the staff of Spanish army. In this document, there are names, passport numbers, addresses and other information about the detainees. But in that case, again, the military courts did not ask the detainees if they were the ones who appeared in the video.
These examples, and others, continue as we chronicle in the report "Tortures Committed by Spanish Soldiers in Iraq: 12 Years Without Justice," published in April 2016.
All these irregularities reaffirm a deeper, more general concern at Amnesty International: Investigations into human rights violations should not be carried out in military courts; they should be investigated in ordinary courts.
Within this worrisome picture, there are two positive aspects to consider: The fact that the investigation has been filed "provisionally," and not definitively; and the willingness of the Attorney General to provide information to Amnesty International.
There is still a chance to reopen the investigation if, for example, the evidence showing these irregularities is taken into account, or if other evidence emerges.
Recently, Amnesty International launched a campaign directed at the Attorney General to transfer the case to civilian courts. A torture case like this one cannot go unpunished. I imagine that many people will share my sentiments: What kind of person can laugh as they beat someone up? It doesn't make me laugh.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Spain. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.

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