|"The hospital morgue in Maiduguri, Nigeria, where large numbers of bodies have been brought." (Adam Nossiter/The New York Times)|
By Adam Nossiter
The New York Times, May 7, 2013
"A fresh load of battered corpses arrived, 29 of them in a routine delivery by the Nigerian military to the hospital morgue here. Unexpectedly, three bodies started moving. 'They were not properly shot,' recalled a security official here. 'I had to call the JTF' -- the military's joint task force -- 'and they gunned them down.' It was a rare oversight. Large numbers of bodies, sometimes more than 60 in a day, are being brought by the Nigerian military to the state hospital, according to government, health and security officials, hospital workers and human rights groups -- the product of the military’s brutal war against radical Islamists rooted in this northern city. The corpses were those of young men arrested in neighborhood sweeps by the military and taken to a barracks nearby. Accused, often on flimsy or no evidence, of being members or supporters of Boko Haram -- the Islamist militant group waging a bloody insurgency against the Nigerian state -- the detainees are beaten, starved, shot and even suffocated to death, say the officials, employees and witnesses. Then, soldiers bring the bodies to the hospital and dump them at the morgue, officials and workers say. The flood is so consistent that the small morgue at the edge of the hospital grounds often has no room, with corpses flung by the military in the sand around it. Residents say they sometimes have to flee the neighborhood because of the fierce smell of rotting flesh. From the outset of the battle between Boko Haram and the military, a dirty war on both sides that has cost nearly 4,000 lives since erupting in this city in 2009, security forces have been accused of extrajudicial killings and broad, often indiscriminate roundups of suspects and sympathizers in residential areas. The military's harsh tactics, which it flatly denies, have reduced militant attacks in this insurgent stronghold, but at huge cost and with likely repercussions, officials and rights advocates contend.
No one doubts that Boko Haram, which has claimed responsibility for assassinations and bombings that have killed officials and civilians alike, is thoroughly enmeshed in the local populace, making the job of extricating the group extremely difficult. But as with other abuses, the bodies piling up at the morgue -- where it is often impossible to distinguish combatants from the innocent -- have turned many residents against the military, driving some toward the insurgency, officials say. Even the state's governor, who acknowledged that he must tread a careful line not to offend the Nigerian military, expressed disquiet at the tactics. 'A lot of lives are lost on a daily basis due to the inhumane conditions' at the barracks, known as Giwa, said the governor, Kashim Shettima. 'They do deposit bodies on a daily basis.' Moreover, the bodies come in even when there have been no bombings, sectarian clashes or battles between the military and the insurgents, making it unlikely that the dead were killed in combat, terrorist attacks or similar circumstances. 'Mostly they bring the corpses from Giwa Barracks, the JTF,' said one hospital worker. Most of the young men died 'from beating, bullets, maltreatment,' he added. 'You can hardly see a corpse here from sickness. Sometimes it is up to 120 corpses they bring.' His colleague at the hospital, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said: 'Every day. An average of 14 to 15 bodies a day. They accumulate. Some are swollen. Almost all are emaciated. Some they bring in with their handcuffs still on.' On a recent blazingly hot Saturday, a convoy of two armored cars and an ambulance barreled into the sandy grounds of the sprawling state hospital, sirens wailing. Wary Nigerian Army machine gunners flanked the ambulance, and the attendants wore face masks against the odor in the 109-degree heat. It was not the only convoy that day, said rights advocates who also observed the scene. 'The numbers can be outrageous; they bring them in an ambulance, two or three ambulances, loaded,' the security official said. 'Most of them are tortured.' Overwhelmed morgue attendants sometimes simply flee their post, the official said. [...]"