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20 years on, Human Rights Watch says US failing Iraq torture survivors

A US marine frisks an Iraqi man entering the Abu Ghraib prison to visit a relative in May 2004
— Washington (AFP)

Twenty years after invading Iraq, the United States is failing the survivors of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison by not offering any path to compensation, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

"Twenty years on, Iraqis who were tortured by US personnel still have no clear path for filing a claim or receiving any kind of redress or recognition from the US government," said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

"US officials have indicated that they prefer to leave torture in the past, but the long-term effects of torture are still a daily reality for many Iraqis and their families."

The rights group interviewed people including Taleb al-Majli, a former detainee who said he was in a widely reported photograph that showed US soldiers piling naked, hooded prisoners in a human pyramid at Abu Ghraib.

Al-Majli said he was sexually humiliated and abused with dogs and water hoses. He said he was released after 16 months without charge but kept biting his hands and wrists to cope with trauma, leaving such scars that he can no longer wear short sleeves.

"This one year and four months changed my entire being for the worse. It destroyed me and destroyed my family," he told the rights group, which said it could not verify his full account.

At least 11 US soldiers were convicted of abuses at Abu Ghraib but critics say the punishments were light and that no one in higher authority was prosecuted.

Human Rights Watch said it could find no legal pathway for Abu Ghraib victims to receive compensation, either through the US or Iraqi systems.

"The US should provide compensation, recognition and official apologies to survivors of abuse and their families," Yager said.

The US-led coalition is estimated to have detained some 100,000 Iraqis from 2003 to 2009.

Human Rights Watch cited a 2004 finding by the International Committee of the Red Cross that said US-led coalition military intelligence estimated that 70 to 90 percent of people arrested had been taken by mistake.

President Barack Obama, a critic of the Iraq war elected in 2008, vowed that the United States would not "torture" but decided not to seek accountability against officials in the previous administration of George W. Bush.

Due to a law passed by Congress, the United States similarly has not compensated prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.