Sacking of Crusading Judge Fuels Concerns Over Iraq Rights Record
One of Iraq's leading judicial champions of the rule of law has been sacked, fueling concerns the US-backed government is adopting strong-arm tactics reminiscent of the old regime in its war against insurgents.
The central criminal court's chief investigating magistrate, Zuhair al-Maliky, said the authorities had given him no reason for his dismissal, which came after repeated clashes with state security agencies over arbitrary arrests and other suspected abuses.
But the judge insisted he was unrepentant about his crusade for due process by the security services.
"Nobody is above the law," he told AFP.
"That's the mistake Saddam (Hussein) made. When he made some people above the law... that was the disaster for Iraqi society."
Ironically, it was the US-led coalition that originally tasked Maliky with investigating alleged abuses by Iraq's fledgling security apparatus.
A former US official confirmed he had been charged with probing alleged bribery and brutality by members of the police major crimes unit, back in April, two months before the caretaker government took power.
"There was a lot of cases of torture, illegal detention and corruption," recalled Maliky, adding that his investigation resulted in the arrest or conviction of at least 20 policemen.
Five of the cases involved the use of electric shock on detainees, leaving one man partially paralyzed, he added.
But once Iraq regained its sovereignty in June, his investigation ground to a halt as the insurgency grew and the government put a premium on restoring security.
"Before the transfer of power, they were obedient. Now, they've stopped obeying court orders," Maliky complained, pointing to 10 policemen with outstanding charges who had refused to obey court summons.
He charged that US support for his campaign had also waned as attacks on coalition troops intensified.
"I don't really speak with the Americans since the transfer of sovereignty. They seem more concerned with fighting the war than rebuilding the country," he said.
The US embassy declined to comment, saying the Iraqi justice system was a matter for the government. The interior ministry also declined to respond to the allegations.
Maliky again locked horns with the security services in September after the major crimes unit and agents from Iraq's new national intelligence service arrested 52 people at the Baghdad headquarters of Hezbollah, a faction of a mainstream Shiite religious party which has representatives in the interim government.
The judge ordered their release, saying the interior ministry had failed to obtain a proper warrant or bring the suspects before a court.
But the intelligence service simply secured broader powers, with its own special judges authorized to issue arrest warrants, its chief Mohammed al-Shahwani confirmed.
Maliky said the unprecedented move was a clear violation of the US-drafted order which established the spy service in April and defined its role strictly as an information gatherer.
However Shahwani defended it, saying: "We do everything legally ... I have no agenda, I work only for this flag."
The major crimes unit is now holding up to 10 individuals for Shahwani, on the basis of a clause in Saddam's old penal code dealing with enemies of the state, Maliky said.
A further 50 suspects are being held without charge by the unit, he added.
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq confirmed the arrest of the 52 Hezbollah members and charged that they had also been tortured in what it described as an unacceptable breach of the interim constitution.
"We cannot anywhere accept this behavior," party leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim told AFP. "There is a (basic) law to rule the state in the transitional period. Human rights must be respected."
The Islamic Party, a leading Sunni religious faction, agreed that the interim constitution was being increasingly violated in the battle against insurgents.
"(A) simple example is that according to that very law, no citizen should be arrested unless an arrest warrant is issued, which is something not happening in most of the cases, if at all," party spokesman Iyad al-Samarrai told AFP.
New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch said it shared many of the concerns expressed, particularly over the major crimes unit.
"We have received information about the torture and ill-treatment of detainees for the purpose of extracting confessions," the watchdog's Baghdad representative Hania Mufti said.
"The (interim constitution) contains a bill of rights that sets out basic human rights safeguards. Some of them are not being met."
Interior Minister Falah Naquib acknowledged before parliament Monday that there had been cases of arbitrary detention but said his government was trying to stamp them out.
"There were mistakes in arresting some people without a warrant according to the law and we will work hard to stop it," he told MPs.