Rights group: Iraq courts fail to meet fairness standards
The U.S.-created Central Criminal Court of Iraq is "seriously failing to meet the international standards of due process and fair trials," according to a report issued this week by the international watchdog group Human Rights Watch.
The court was created by the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and has gradually taken on growing importance as the court in which alleged insurgents and U.S. detainees are tried for crimes against coalition forces and Iraqi civilians.
As part of the new security agreement signed between the two nations, all U.S.-held detainees must be transferred to Iraqi custody beginning in January. Those detainees are tried in the CCCI.
"The failings of the court are all the more striking because of the stakes riding on it," the Human Rights Watch report reads.
"Far from serving as a model criminal justice institution, the court has failed to provide basic assurances of fairness, undermining the concept of a national justice system serving the rule of law."
To compile the report, investigators from Human Rights Watch attended hearings, interviewed participants and pored over court records and pleadings.
They found that defendants were often abused while in custody and often held indefinitely before finally getting to trial. Charges are often based on secret witnesses, coerced confessions and little evidence, the report alleges.
"Judges in many instances acknowledged these failings and dismissed some cases accordingly, particularly those involving alleged torture, but the number of cases where such allegations arise suggest that serious miscarriages of justice are frequent," the report reads.
Iraqi officials with the court could not be reached on Wednesday for comment about the report.
In a 2004 visit to the court, Stars and Stripes was told by defense attorneys that they were not given full access to clients and that access to evidence was restricted. According to the Human Rights Watch report, many of those problems remain even now.
The court — already backlogged with cases — will see many more in the coming months as the U.S. transfers its detainees to Iraqi custody.
In that vein, the report also alleged that "the refusal in particular of U.S. military officials involved in detention matters to honor hundreds of decisions by the court to release detainees in U.S. military custody has further undermined respect for the Iraqi judicial system."
Request for comment on the report by officials with Task Force 134 — the U.S. command that oversees detainee operations — were referred to Multi-National Force — Iraq on Wednesday. MNFI officials said they could not comment on the report by deadline.
But in a news release issued Tuesday about the transfer of high-value detainees to Iraqi custody, U.S. officials said the "transfer is in recognition that the Iraqi criminal courts and prison systems have become sufficiently robust to safeguard and prosecute these individuals in accordance with the rule of law."
Among the recommendations in the Human Rights Watch report were: disallowing confessions obtained through torture or other unlawful methods; limiting the use of secret informants; ensuring that legal counsel has prompt access to detainees; and ensuring that people taken into custody are brought before a judge within 24 hours.
Another recommendation was to "immediately release or charge with a cognizable criminal offense all those currently held without charge."