Iraqi VP demands inquiry into bodyguard's death
BAGHDAD - The Associated Press
In this Friday, Dec. 23, 2011 file photo, Iraq's Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press near Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, Iraq. AP photoIraq's fugitive Sunni vice president demanded Sunday that global human rights groups investigate whether one of his bodyguards was tortured to death.
Taking the unusual step of speaking in English in a speech aimed at the international community, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi accused Iraq's government of covering up the imprisonment and slaying of bodyguard Amir Sarbut Zaidan al-Batawi.
Al-Batawi, 33, was one of the bodyguards swept up in the probe launched last December into whether al-Hashemi directed death squads against Shiite pilgrims, government officials and security officials.
The government's conduct of the investigation against the country's highest-ranked Sunni politician has driven a deeper wedge between Iraq's Shiite leaders and minority Sunnis who believe they are being sidelined in the country's political system. Al-Hashemi has avoided arrest by fleeing to the country's semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Baghdad's military command says al-Batawi died March 15 of kidney failure, and delivered his body to his family on March 20.
Pictures of al-Batawi's body shown before al-Hashemi's speech showed multiple bruises on his back, buttocks and legs.
"Witnesses confirmed that he had he lost blood from his mouth and from all his body egresses, with scars and ulcers and damages in his body tissues," al-Hashemi said in the seven-minute speech. He cited injuries "in many critical parts of his body as a result of savage methods used on him during investigation." "I beseech the international community to take rapid action to rectify the disastrous situation and status related to human rights," al-Hashemi said. "Our situation in Iraq has become intolerable." Officials at Iraq's human rights ministry and security commands could not immediately be reached for comment after al-Hashemi's speech.
Al-Hashemi's timed his speech to be delivered as dignitaries, journalists and political observers from across the world began arriving in Baghdad for the annual Arab League summit that will be held in the Iraqi capital this week. Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby flew into Baghdad on Sunday and was holding meetings with Iraq's top leaders, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Other world leaders expected to attend are United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, top officials from the European Union and African Union, and at least six rulers from the 22 nations that make up the League.
The vice president has denied the terrorism charges against him that he calls politically motivated. From his refuge in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, he has called for his trial to be moved from Baghdad to the ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk where he believes his case will get an impartial review. Kirkuk is 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
Sunday's speech was similar to one al-Hashemi launched a few days ago, accusing the government of ignoring his calls for an inquiry into al-Batawi's death. He said al-Batawi's death certificate did not state the cause of death, raising questions about the military's claims that he died of kidney failure.
Additionally, al-Hashemi said his lawyers have been kept from attending hearings in the case, or from taking notes in the ones they are allowed to participate in. "All such practices are illegal," he said.
Earlier this week, New York-based Human Rights Watch echoed al-Hashemi's concerns, agreeing the photos of al-Batawi's body show he may have been tortured.
"It's essential for the Iraqi government to investigate his death and report publicly what they find," said Joe Stork, the group's deputy Middle East director.