RECENT REVELATIONS about the torture of Iraqis at a secret prison under the authority of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki suggest that the country has yet to escape the legacy of Saddam Hussein. To prevent a complete relapse, the Maliki government or its successor must honestly investigate what happened at the Muthanna prison and prosecute the guilty — even if the guilt extends to the highest levels.
The horrors inflicted on some 300 of 430 inmates at the prison on an Iraqi air base replicated the inhumanity of Hussein’s regime. The victims were beaten with cables and burned with acid; had their toenails and fingernails pulled out; were raped and sodomized; and were forced to sign confessions they often could not read. All the while, they were denied legal counsel and visits from family members.
It is a sad irony that the prisoners, who were all Sunni Muslims, say they were accused of being Ba’athists — that is, members of Hussein’s old ruling party. The torture disclosures, which appeared originally in the Los Angeles Times and were confirmed by Human Rights Watch from interviews with 42 survivors, are sure to increase the post-election difficulty of forming a coalition government in Iraq. And if a government acceptable to the major power blocs is not agreed upon, the combination of flagrant corruption and government security forces capturing and torturing Sunnis could spark a revival of sectarian warfare.
Worrisome as this prospect may be, it must not deter President Obama from keeping his promise to withdraw all US combat forces by Sept. 1. Still, the administration should insist on respect for human rights and the rule of law.