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19,000 Iraqis Disappear Into U.S.-Run Prisons


Last summer, the Associated Press and New York Times each did stories on the detention facilities operated by the United States inside of Iraq. The conclusions of each investigation were roughly the same. At the time, they noted roughly 14,000 Iraqis were being held in a “legal vacuum.” The detention facilities were chaotic, a large portion of the persons held were taken in on sweeps through their neighborhoods and were suspected and charged with nothing. No trials occur, but the detainees languish often for many months – in some cases for more than a year. “They may not be enemies when they enter these prisons,” one Army officer told me, “but you can count on it that they are insurgent sympathizers by the time they leave.” He was alluding not just to the treatment standards, which he called “nothing I would be proud of as an American,” but the fact that the facilities are allowed to function as recruitment and training centers for the insurgents. Politically uninvolved Iraqis enter. But to find a way of surviving in the brutal gang reality of the prisons, they cast their lot with insurgent groups.

The United States government views this as a “security detention” system that has nothing to do with justice. They are literally right about that. The system has no legal basis. When challenged for authority, spokesmen for U.S. Forces in Iraq constantly cite Security Council Resolution 1546. However, this resolution does not authorize the detentions. To the contrary, it, and the letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell which accompanied it, make clear that detentions must be made in accordance with the Iraqi Constitution and laws. And Iraqi law requires any detention to be justified before a magistrate in a matter of only a few days. One of the most striking features of the U.S. detention regime in Iraq is, however, its complete contempt for the requirements of Iraqi law.

But beyond this, it’s a formula for how to lose a civil war.

Today, McClatchy reports on the situation and finds the conditions are essentially the same as found by the AP and New York Times in the fall, except that the number of persons under detention has now spiraled to nineteen thousand. But the McClatchy piece puts its focus on ten thousand Iraqis who have simply gone missing – as family and friends are unable to establish any connection with persons in detention, even to establish whether they are simply still alive.

There’s no accurate count of the missing since the war began. Iraqi human rights groups put the figure at 15,000 or more, while government officials say 40 to 60 people disappeared each day throughout the country for much of last year, a rate equal to at least 14,600 in one year.

What happened to them is a frustrating mystery that compounds Iraq’s overwhelming sense of chaos and anarchy. Are they dead? Were they kidnapped or killed in some mass bombing? Is the Iraqi government or some militia group holding them? Were they taken prisoner by the United States, which is holding 19,000 Iraqis at its two main detention centers, at Camp Cropper and Camp Bucca?

You were wondering perhaps, how do you completely alienate and infuriate a population under military occupation? Well, this is how.

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