LONDON (Reuters) - The United States has released several thousand Iraqi prisoners into Iraqi custody despite documented evidence that Iraqi security forces have abused detainees, Amnesty International said on Monday.
The handover of prisoners occurred after a bilateral security agreement came into force last year, ending the U.S. military's right to detain Iraqis, and formally concluded in July with the transfer of the last U.S. detention centre.
"Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Yet, the U.S. authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by U.S. forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights."
An Iraqi official disputed Amnesty's assertions.
The Amnesty report documents thousands of arbitrary detentions and beatings of detainees to obtain forced confessions. The Iraqi judicial system is based on securing convictions through confessions rather than evidence.
It estimated 30,000 people were being held without trial in Iraq and 10,000 of those were transferred from U.S. custody over the past year and a half.
"This report is baseless and inaccurate. We respect the law and observe human rights norms," said Iraq's Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim.
"We welcome anyone to visit our prisons and see how detainees are treated," Ibrahim told Reuters, adding that all prisoners were detained on valid judicial warrants.
Amnesty said it believed several detainees had died, possibly as a result of what it described as torture and other ill-treatment by interrogators and prison guards.
In one case, a former member of the Iraqi Special Forces died in February as a result of internal bleeding following interrogation, Amnesty said.
"His body was handed over to his family several weeks later. The death certificate gave his cause of death as 'heart failure'," it said.
During the handover ceremony in July for Camp Bucca, the last U.S. prison, U.S. military officials said they were confident no maltreatment would occur under Iraqi supervision.
At the request of the Iraqi authorities, U.S. wardens continue to guard about 200 detainees, including al Qaeda militants and henchmen of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
The United States itself has come under fire over prisoner abuse. Disclosures in 2004 that U.S. jailers had abused and sexually humiliated Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison on Baghdad's outskirts outraged many Iraqis and may have contributed to a growing insurgency at the time.
Amnesty said methods of torture used in Iraqi jails included beating with cables and hosepipes, electric shocks to sensitive body parts and removal of finger and toenails.
It said several of the detainees held in one secret prison said they were detained on the basis of false information obtained by Iraqi forces from secret informants.
It said: "They had been held without any access to the outside world and some were tortured or otherwise ill-treated during interrogation, apparently to make them confess to involvement in bombings or other crimes that could incur the death penalty."
Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Ralph Boulton