Human Rights Violations in Arab Prisons
By Jacob Thomas
That some Iraqi prisoners were mistreated at the Abu Ghraib
is now a fact of history. Soon after these violations of human rights became
known to the United States Administration, they were properly dealt with.
Unfortunately, some sections of the American media keep on harping on the topic.
Every now and then, the New York Times for example, drags up some “event”
that had taken place at that prison, and heralds it to its shrinking readership.
One cannot escape being aware of that kind of propaganda parading as news.
So it was rather interesting to discover a more honest
assessment of the whole affair, in an international online Arabic daily. I have
in mind the
March 13, 2006
issue of Al-Sharq al-Awsat that published an article with this
Rights Abuses in Arab Prisons.
I hesitate to share all the shocking information that
appeared in this article. Some of the torture methods are beyond description.
Nevertheless, I decided to translate the article and comment on some of its
parts, not to minimize what happened at Abu Ghraib, but to underline the fact
that some of our print and broadcast media have lost their balance, and
therefore forfeited all credibility. So, here are excerpts from the article
written by an Arab columnist for an Arab readership.
We have all been
talking about the human rights violations that took place at Abu Ghraib Prison.
Unquestionably, those American jailors were ugly and very repulsive by any human
standards, in their treatments of the prisoners. But what about the human rights
violations that have occurred in Arab prisons, and have been perpetrated by Arab
I am holding in my
hands a summary of the First Yearly Report for 2005, regarding conditions at the
prisons and the treatment of prisoners in nine Arab countries. It was published
by the Organization for the Reform of
Criminal Law. The main points of the Report were printed in Al-Watan
newspaper of Saturday, 11 March 2006.
At this point I would like to warn the reader to take a
deep breath, and sit calmly as he, or she, reads the Report. I have purposely
censored certain terrible descriptions that appeared in the Arabic original
The report highlights
the fact that the Arab World has become a place of expertise in the various
means of torture. Here are some of the methods used to torture prisoners:
‘beating them with canes or cables in various areas of the body; placing a
prisoner inside a rubber tire so that he becomes unable to move while he is
being tortured. Not to forget the use of electric shocks, and the so-called
‘German chair’ for torture. In this horrible method a prisoner is placed on
a moving iron chair that causes unbearable pressure on his back-bone, resulting
in partial and temporary paralysis, and sometimes permanent.
One should not forget to mention the resort to burning prisoners with
cigarettes, and torturing them in water!’
The columnist concluded his comments on the Report:
According to the
report, the Organization for the Reform of Criminal Law aims at bringing about a
reformation in the legislative structures and penal laws of the Arab world,
protecting and defending human rights by building bridges of cooperation between
the ORCL and the local branches in every Arab country. Its goal is to bring
about a complete change in the concept of penal philosophy that would be in
harmony with the dignity of human beings in accordance with International Law.
Taking account of the
report of this young Arab organization, and accepting the veracity of its
findings, we may conclude that the inhuman conditions as described in its
report, would result in exacerbating the violence that grips the Arab world.
Such prisons cannot but breed souls that, upon their release, are filled with
feelings of hatred, victimhood, and desire to inflict vengeance upon society.
Rather than becoming instruments for the reformation of their inmates, these
prisons engender souls that are bent on committing more crimes.
How I wish the above article could have appeared on the
pages of such dailies as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los
Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune; as well as being read by the men and
women at NPR and PBS in their daily accounts of world news!
What added credibility to the shocking revelations of the
article about the Human Rights Abuses in Arab Prisons were several responses that
were published in the daily. The vast majority agreed with the columnist. Here
are some examples:
came this Email. The writer related a fable to underscore his conviction that
those who torture prisoners will receive a terrible punishment in the hereafter:
A woman ended up in
Hell because she had imprisoned her cat. If that was the punishment of a person
who had maltreated an animal, what would be the punishment of those who torture
their fellow-human beings?
An Arab living in
The Arab media have
been preoccupied with the beatings that took place at Abu Ghraib; but they have
forgotten, or purposely neglected those tortured in Arab prisons, as well as the
mass graves of Saddam Hussein, and those of other Arab regimes. The media did
that to cause the Arab street to forget their real problems.
An Iraqi having found refuge in
wrote on the 13th of March the following:
experienced various means of torture. As an Iraqi, let me share my experiences
for the welfare of my Arab brothers. We have experienced horrific torture in
Saddam’s jails. It is not even possible to compare them with conditions at Abu
Ghraib. In all honesty I must say that American and British prisons [in
] are more humane than those existing in Arab lands. Arab prison guards know
nothing but a culture of inhuman treatment and the torture of their prisoners.
The article in Al-Sharq
al-Awsat and the comments of some of its readers, revealed how necessary
it is for a truly responsible media in the West to focus their attention on such
subjects as the “Human
Rights Abuses in Arab Prisons” rather than endlessly
resurrecting those abuses that took place in Baghdad. After all, these were
temporary, while those going on right now (at least in nine Arab countries) are
very real and