Successfully fleeing ISIS-held Mosul does not necessarily guarantee safety and an end to the misery for Iraqi civilians, especially for military-age males, according to a photographer who has witnessed and documented the brutal and sometimes deadly interrogation tactics of an elite unit.
Excruciating sounds of pain piercing the walls of the elite Emergency Response Division (ERD) intelligence headquarters are heard in taped footage as four soldiers interrogated two brothers.
Escaping with their families from an ISIS-controlled neighborhood of Mosul, siblings Ahmed Abdullah Hassan and Leish Abdullah thought they found safety with government forces until the special interrogation unit got hold of them in December of last year.
Blindfolded, with hands tied behind their backs, the two brothers were severely beaten, harassed and degraded by the ERD, despite an earlier clearance from Iraqi special forces who confirmed the two men were civilians.
Other graphic evidence provided by freelance photographer Ali Arkady showed the men being slapped around, while one photo of the interrogation depicted a soldier poking the eye of Leith Abdullah Hassan with a finger. Other footage showed the soldier holding a knife to one of the brothers' head, right below his right ear.
After being brutally tortured throughout the course of the night, the brothers were killed, according to Arkady.
The US coalition has denied training Iraq’s ERD who have been outed for using torture practices against civilians in Mosul. At the same time, the Pentagon admitted that there is nothing to prevent the US from working with Iraq’s interrogation unit.
Soldiers of the Emergency Response Division were photographed and videotaped torturing people late last year in Mosul by Arkady who managed to smuggle the footage out of the country.
The Iraqi military, who were filmed torturing and abusing civilians, are “mainly supervised by US commanders,” a member of the Baghdad Security Committee, Saad Al-Muttalibi told RT.
“The rapid response units were trained by the Americans and are close to the US command,” he added. “They [US commanders] have some type of immunity that we can’t question them.”
Washington denied having any knowledge of any torture in Mosul and said the Iraqi special forces unit was blacklisted in 2015 under the US Leahy law which prohibits them from getting military support for human rights abuses.
“At no time were US forces aware of or informed of these allegations until you brought them to our attention,” the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve said in a statement to RT, adding, that “any violation of the law of armed conflict would be unacceptable.”
“The US does not currently train or equip the Iraqi Emergency Response Division,” the Pentagon added in a statement to RT. However, it said that “Leahy vetting does not prevent the US from working with the ERD.”
Human Rights Watch had earlier said that “the US is dangerously close to complicity” in war crimes for its working relationship with the ERD.
“The US government is playing a clunky shell game, pretending to move its assistance away from abusive Iraqi units like the ERD, while still working with them, training them and coordinating with them,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East Executive for Human Rights Watch was quoted as saying.
While the Iraqi Interior Ministry claimed that it would “investigate the matter clearly and impartially” and “take legal action in accordance with the laws,” other human rights groups have called for an international impartial investigation into the abuses while questioning whether Washington will allow for the international investigation to take place.
“At the moment we see the United States getting involved in Mosul with other countries, which is not allowing other countries to get involved and oversee how the fight is taken place, how Mosul is getting freed," Mohammed Serkal, UN coordinator of the SALAM for Democracy and Human Rights NGO, told RT.