By Michael Georgy (Sun July 20, 2003)
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Amnesty International accused U.S. troops on Sunday of "very severe" human rights abuses in Iraq and complained that it had been denied access to thousands of prisoners held without charge in "appalling" conditions."
Amnesty spokeswoman Judit Arenas Licea said some Iraqis had been forced to stand under the blistering sun for up to 48 hours in U.S.-run detention centers that lack proper sanitation and that relatives had no information on their plight.
One detainee was shot dead by U.S. troops during a prison riot last month, she told Reuters in an interview in Baghdad.
"We are disappointed that human rights were used as an excuse to go to war in Iraq and now the human rights of Iraqis are being violated," she said, condemning conditions at among other sites Saddam Hussein's once notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
U.S. military officials declined immediate comment.
A team from the London-based independent rights watchdog is visiting Iraq to take testimony from those held and released by U.S. forces and to try and speak to some of those still held.
It is also investigating abuses under Saddam, although most of those imprisoned by him are now free. While some Iraqis detained by invading troops have been released, many remain in prisons with no access to a lawyer or families, Licea said.
The U.S. military authorities have repeatedly turned down Amnesty's requests for access to those jails, Licea said.
Some Iraqis are being held by the Americans at the Abu Ghraib complex near Baghdad, one of the most feared prisons under Saddam. Today it is heavily guarded by U.S. troops.
Licea alleged that American soldiers shot and killed detainee Alaa Jassem there on June 13 while trying to contain prisoners rioting against poor conditions.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz visited Abu Ghraib prison on Sunday as part of a five-day tour of Iraq.
Saddam and his associates had "murdered" 30,000 people in Abu Ghraib, Wolfowitz told reporters, adding that he believed that most Iraqis were now behind the United States.
When Amnesty tried to investigate prison conditions it got similar answers from U.S. soldiers every time, Licea said:
"They just cite security reasons for not giving information. But we know from ex-prisoners that many have not bathed properly for months and there is no sanitation."
Amnesty has also been denied access to a temporary American prison set up at Baghdad's main airport where it believes some of Saddam's top officials are held.
U.S. troops, who have lost 37 of their comrades to attacks since major combat was declared over on May 1, have struggled to impose order since they toppled Saddam. Many fear for their lives and so prefer to trust no one on the streets.
But Licea said this was prolonging a vicious circle of mistrust as soldiers were heavy handed in arrests and searches.
"People are handcuffed and put on their knees and humiliated. There was one case where a 12-year-old child was handcuffed behind his back with a group of adults. The Americans treat the children like adults," she said.