16 Jan 2012

'Your son is being tortured. He will die if you don't pay'

A growing body of evidence collected by the Guardian that shows Iraqi state security officers are systematically arresting people on trumped-up charges, torturing them and extorting bribes from their families for their release. Endemic corruption in Iraq has created a new industry in which senior security service officers buy their authority over particular neighbourhoods by bribing politicians, junior officers pay their seniors monthly stipends and everyone gets a return on their investment by extorting money from the families of detainees.


During two trips to the country before and after the US withdrawal from the country on 18 December, the Guardian interviewed 14 detainees and five officers in different branches of the security service in Baghdad. All the detainees said they had had to pay money to be freed, even though most had been acquitted in the courts. Some had been jailed for three days and some, like Yassir, for five years. In three cases, officers changed a detainee's "confession" – often extracted under torture – in return for money. In one case, an officer lost the detainee's documents in return for a bribe and he was released due to lack of evidence. One prisoner we interviewed is still in jail and in the middle of negotiations with officers.

Release does not mean escape. According to one officer we spoke to, men who are released are often detained again because a family that has paid once to get their sons out of a detention centre makes an easy target for more extortion.

Much more on The Guardian