The US occupation forces in Iraq have, from the beginning of the occupation more than five years ago, engaged in the arbitrary imprisonment (“detaining”) of Iraqi citizens. As one former US soldier testified: “I witnessed and participated in countless massive operations led by American commanders whose metrics for success were numbers of detainees apprehended.”–Louis Montalvan
If you were a YSM (young Sunni male) found in a night-time US military sweep through Iraqi neighborhoods you stood an excellent chance of being zip-tied, thrown into the back of a truck and taken downtown. “Most of the people they detain are innocent,” said Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
This has resulted in US prison populations in Iraq of nearly 20,000 prisoners, with another 26,000 being held by our Iraqi surrogates.
As Afghanistan heats up, more Afghan citizens are being arbitrarily arrested and held in prison. In August construction began on a new facility for as many as 1,100 detainees and now the US Military has initiated an inquiry into possible detainee abuse
All of this, of course, is in direct violation of the Geneva Convention which calls for the military to be responsible for the welfare of citizens in a war zone or occupied territory.
Protected civilians MUST be:
– Treated humanely at all times and protected against acts or threats of violence, insults and public curiosity.
– Entitled to respect for their honour, family rights, religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.
A much lesser number of prisoners, in the hundreds, have been held by the US military in Cuba. But in June the Supreme Court handed its third consecutive rebuff to the Bush administration’s handling of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay, ruling 5 to 4 that the prisoners there have a constitutional right to go to federal court to challenge their continued detention. The finding, Boumediene v. Bush, (pdf) reversed and remanded a refusal of the DC Circuit Court to issue a writ of habeas corpus to Gitmo internees.
Barack Obama has promised to close the internment facility in Cuba. We’ll see.
There has been no such court finding for the unfortunates in Iraq, Afghanistan and who knows where else. However, in Iraq, the new SOFA pact has called for the release of all US-held prisoners. Perhaps it will happen.
There are two views of what these people might do if the are released, and neither is good.
The military view: “We are concerned that we will most likely release dangerous detainees back into the communities of Iraq who have directly contributed to the deaths of not only Iraqi and Coalition Forces, but countless numbers of civilians,” said Major Neal Fisher, spokesman for U.S. detainee operations.
The human rights view: “Why are they detained if they don’t have adequate evidence against them?” asked Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. And will people who were arbitrarily held in cages and possibly tortured just forgive and forget when they are released? Would you?
“Unsurprisingly, someone who’s been deprived of their liberties for months and years without even a hint of due process … of course they’re going to be angry,” said Joseph Logan of Human Rights Watch, who recently spent time in the country researching the Iraqi justice system. “As the Americans found in 2003, the enemies you create are going to be there down the road. I think there is definitely political impact down the road from this.”
Either way, it’s recruiting for the enemy.
Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler wrote, war is a racket.