Abuse Victims Wary of Political Trials

Some former Abu Ghraib inmates fear exploitation by politically-motivated lawyers.

Abuse Victims Wary of Political Trials

Some former Abu Ghraib inmates fear exploitation by politically-motivated lawyers.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Seated in the west Baghdad offices of the Iraqi Human Rights Society, men abused at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison and other Coalition-run detention centres consider their options.

They are highly sought after as clients by lawyers across the Arab world who wish to have their cases tried at international courts.

Some former detainees have leapt at the chance to be represented by established overseas law firms, but others fear their cases will be exploited to serve a political agenda with which they do not necessarily agree.

"I condemn America for the violations carried out by their soldiers, but I don't accept any interference by Arab lawyers in Iraqi matters on behalf of bad Arab rulers similar to Saddam," said lawyer Fattah al-Mahdawi.

"They want to pressure America to stop trying to change their own dictatorial regimes."

For some in Iraq's legal community, the offers by foreign Arab lawyers undermine the country's struggling judicial system.

"The Abu Ghraib prisons are an internal matter, and [the cases] should not be internationalised," said Judge Kamal Eddin Faris al-Juburi.

"The American forces admitted the violations, and the Pentagon assures us that they will punish the lawbreakers and study the possibility of compensating [the victims]."

Former detainee Haydar Abdullah is in a dilemma about whether to use a high-flying Syrian lawyer.

He is seeking compensation for his ill-treatment at the hands of US troops during the six months he was detained in Abu Ghraib for what he says was a weapons possession offence.

"They put me with other six inmates in a filthy place for two days; we ate and urinated in the same place," Abdullah recalled. "The soldiers threw their toilet paper and food scraps at us. They humiliated us."

After his release, Abdullah retained Ahmed Khaled al-Shummary, a lawyer with the Iraqi Human Rights Society, to represent him in a lawsuit against the Coalition Provisional Authority.

But Abdullah has now been contacted by Omar Marwan al-Halabi, a Syrian lawyer based in Jordan, who wants to take his case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Halabi is prepared to provide Shummary compensation for taking away his client, and has also offered to pay Haydar if he loses the case.

Shummary says Halabi wanted to add a “political dimension” to the case in order to put the US under pressure and cause her embarrassment.

So far, Abdullah has been unwilling to hire the Syrian lawyer.

In a telephone interview with IWPR, Halabi said his office is negotiating "with many bodies to get power of attorney from the victims of Abu Ghraib prison".

But he denies having any political agenda and aims only to "get compensation from the American occupying forces for our Iraqi brothers”.

Ahmed Abdullah was tempted to take up a Syrian lawyer’s offer of help until his father Abdullah al-Tamimi intervened.

"I insisted on keeping the case a domestic one, without any intervention from [overseas] Arab lawyers. I won't allow any exploitation of my son's case," al-Tamimi said.

He says that he believes that President Bush’s apology for the Abu Ghraib abuses is a "positive step" and that "it's a fine thing to admit such abuses take place, rather than hiding them".

Dhiya Rasan is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.

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