U.S. Holds 18,000 De­tainees in Iraq

Re­cent Se­cu­rity Crack­down in Bagh­dad Nets An­other 1,000

The Washington Post Sunday - - The Conflict In Iraq - By Wal­ter Pin­cus

In the past month, as a new se­cu­rity crack­down in Bagh­dad be­gan, U.S. forces ar­rested an­other 1,000 Iraqis, bring­ing to 18,000 the num­ber of de­tainees jailed in two U.S.run fa­cil­i­ties in that coun­try.

The av­er­age stay in th­ese de­ten­tion cen­ters is about a year, but about 8,000 of the de­tainees have been jailed longer, in­clud­ing 1,300 who have been in cus­tody for two years, said a state­ment pro­vided by Capt. Phillip J. Valenti, spokesman for Task Force 134, the U.S. Mil­i­tary Po­lice group han­dling detainee op­er­a­tions.

“The in­tent is to de­tain in­di­vid­u­als de­ter­mined to be true threats to coali­tion forces, Iraqi Se­cu­rity Forces and sta­bil­ity in Iraq,” Valenti said. “Un­like sit­u­a­tions in the past, th­ese de­tainees are not con­ven­tional pris­on­ers of war.”

In­stead, he said, they are “di­verse civil­ian in­ternees from widely di­ver­gent po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious and eth­nic back­grounds who are de­tained on the ba­sis of intelligence avail­able at the time of cap­ture and gath­ered dur­ing sub­se­quent ques­tion­ing.” Valenti said 250 of those in cus­tody are third-coun­try na­tion­als, in­clud­ing some high-value de­tainees.

Last month, mil­i­tary spokes­men in Iraq told The Wash­ing­ton Post that the United States held 17,000 de­tainees — 13,800 in Camp Bucca in south­ern Iraq and 3,300 at Camp Crop­per, out­side Bagh­dad. One year ago, less than 10,000 Iraqis were in U.S. fa­cil­i­ties in Iraq, but that fig­ure has grown and could reach 20,000 by the end of this year, ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary con­tract­ing doc­u­ments. As of last month, the Iraqi de­ten­tion sys­tem con­tained about 34,000 de­tainees.

The ini­tial de­ci­sion to de­tain or re­lease those ar­rested is made by a U.S. unit com­man­der with the as­sis­tance of an Army lawyer, Valenti said. A file is made for each de­tain- ee that in­cludes intelligence re­ports and any sworn state­ments and other ev­i­dence that sup­ports the de­ter­mi­na­tion that the per­son is a threat.

At the U.S. de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity, each case is re­viewed by a Mag­is­trate Cell. The de­ci­sion of the Mag­is­trate Cell is given to each pris­oner in writ­ing. Each case is re­viewed af­ter 18 months by the Joint De­ten­tion Re­view Com­mit­tee, an Iraqi-U.S. panel. “Ap­proval for con­tin­ued de­ten­tion be­yond the ini­tial 18-month time­frame re­quires joint ap­proval from the MNF-1 com­man­der [Multi­na­tional Force com­man­der Gen. David H. Pe­traeus] and the prime min­is­ter of Iraq,” Valenti said.

Noah Feld­man, a New York Univer­sity law pro­fes­sor who helped draft the Iraqi con­sti­tu­tion, asked, “Pur­suant to what law are we hold­ing peo­ple who are not turned over to Iraqi courts?” Be­cause they are not con­sid­ered pris­on­ers of war, he said, the United States must con­sider them in the “en­emy com­bat­ant” cat­e­gory used to jus­tify hold­ing de­tainees at Guan­tanamo Bay, Cuba.

Feld­man also ex­pressed con­cern about whether fam­ily mem­bers are in­formed about the de­tainees’ iden­ti­ties and where they are held. If there is no no­ti­fi­ca­tion, “dis­ap­pear­ing peo­ple is a bad, bad prac­tice,” Feld­man said.

On Feb. 13, Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki is­sued a mar­tial-law de­cree sup­port­ing the Bagh­dad se­cu­rity crack­down. The de­cree gave mil­i­tary com­man­ders author­ity to con­duct war­rant­less searches and ar­rests, mon­i­tor private com­mu­ni­ca­tions and re­strict pub­lic gath­er­ings.

Sarah Leah Whit­son, Mid­dle East di­rec­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch, said that un­der Ma­liki’s de­clared mar­tial law, it is up to the Iraqi gov­ern­ment to deal with the de­tainees. “We don’t see any le­gal author­ity for the U.S. to de­tain Iraqis or judge them un­der some tri­bunal sys­tem,” she said. “If the U.S. ex­er­cises that power it’s an­other sym­bol of oc­cu­pa­tion and not an obli­ga­tion many in the mil­i­tary want to as­sume.”

One non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­pert who has stud­ied the U.S. de­ten­tions in Iraq said, “There are a lot of dif­fer­ing opin­ions within Wash­ing­ton and Bagh­dad over how to han­dle th­ese de­tainees, and the un­spo­ken ques­tion is: What will hap­pen if they are turned over to the Iraqis?” The ex­pert spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity for fear that a pub­lic state­ment could un­der­mine the group’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Iraq.

Of the about 2,000 Iraqi de­tainees once held by the United States and turned over to the Iraqi Cen­tral Crim­i­nal Court, 1,747 have been con­victed, Valenti said, with 80 per­cent of them re­ceiv­ing sen­tences of five years or greater, in­clud­ing the death penalty. Not­ing that U.S. forces have un­cov­ered mis­treat­ment of pris­on­ers in Iraqi jails, the ex­pert warned that “turn­ing our de­tainees over to the Iraqis might lead to their tor­ture and even death, so they are bet­ter off with us for the time be­ing.”

BY FABRIZIO BEN­SCH — REUTERS

Sol­diers of the Delta Com­pany, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 12th Cavalry Reg­i­ment guard a detainee in Ghaz­a­liya, a Sunni neigh­bor­hood in Bagh­dad.

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