By PATRICK QUINN
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law. Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.
"It was hard to believe I'd get out," Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi told The Associated Press after his release - without charge - last month. "I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell."
Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq. Many say they were caught up in U.S. military sweeps, often interrogated around the clock, then released months or years later without apology, compensation or any word on why they were taken. Seventy to 90 percent of the Iraq detentions in 2003 were "mistakes," U.S. officers once told the international Red Cross. Defenders of the system, which has only grown since soldiers' photos of abuse at Abu Ghraib shocked the world, say it's an unfortunate necessity in the battles to pacify Iraq and Afghanistan, and to keep suspected terrorists out of action.
Every U.S. detainee in Iraq "is detained because he poses a security threat to the government of Iraq, the people of Iraq or coalition forces," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a spokesman for U.S.-led military detainee operations in Iraq. But dozens of ex-detainees, government ministers, lawmakers, human rights activists, lawyers and scholars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the United States said the detention system often is unjust and hurts the war on terror by inflaming anti-Americanism in Iraq and elsewhere....Human rights groups count dozens of detainee deaths for which no one has been punished or that were never explained. The secret prisons - unknown in number and location - remain available for future detainees. The new manual banning torture doesn't cover CIA interrogators. And thousands of people still languish in a limbo, deprived of one of common law's oldest rights, habeas corpus, the right to know why you are imprisoned.
"If you, God forbid, are an innocent Afghan who gets sold down the river by some warlord rival, you can end up at Bagram and you have absolutely no way of clearing your name," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch in New York. "You can't have a lawyer present evidence, or do anything organized to get yourself out of there."
The U.S. government has contended it can hold detainees until the "war on terror" ends - as it determines....
The chances that most of those foufteen thousand people were terrorists when they went into the system were almost vanishingly small.
The chances that most of them will be terrorists when they come out of the system -- if they ever do -- are much much greater. After all, Saddam Hussein stood accused of arbitrarily imprisoning and randomly killing people. If we are clearly no better than Hussein -- who, if he randomly imprisoned, assaulted, and killed people, also managed to keep a cap, however viciously, on the country's ethnic divisions -- then why would they not do everything they can to get us out of there? If it involves killing and injuring US soldiers, then so be it; why should the soldiers be spared what they themselves have experienced at the hands of those very soldiers? (Or, actually, the CIA these days. But why should they bother distinguishing? How could they?)
There's also the question: what happens to these people when the US leaves Iraq? Presumably, the responsibility for the prisons will be handed over to the reconstituted -- and already reknowned and notorious for incompetence and corruption -- Iraqi police and military. The Iraqi police and military will be oh so likely to release people who may well see them as collaborators with the enemy. Chances are better than even that many, even most, of these people will become the American/Iraqi version of the Disappeared. (Not including, of course, the numerous Muslims and other Arabs who were disappeared from US streets in the days and weeks after 9/11, and who have never been accounted for.)
A case study of one of the Disappeared in Iraq:
By ROBERT TANNER
AP NATIONAL WRITER
The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing.
Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for "imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions. AP executives said the news cooperative's review of Hussein's work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.
Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on April 12 of this year.
"We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable," said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer. "We've come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure." [...] Hussein proclaims his innocence, according to his Iraqi lawyer, Badie Arief Izzat, and believes he has been unfairly targeted because his photos from Ramadi and Fallujah were deemed unwelcome by the coalition forces.
That Hussein was captured at the same time as insurgents doesn't make him one of them, said Kathleen Carroll, AP's executive editor. "Journalists have always had relationships with people that others might find unsavory," she said. "We're not in this to choose sides, we're to report what's going on from all sides."
AP executives in New York and Baghdad have sought to persuade U.S. officials to provide additional information about allegations against Hussein and to have his case transferred to the Iraqi criminal justice system. The AP contacted military leaders in Iraq and the Pentagon, and later the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad. The AP has worked quietly until now, believing that would be the best approach. But with the U.S. military giving no indication it would change its stance, the news cooperative has decided to make public Hussein's imprisonment, hoping the spotlight will bring attention to his case and that of thousands of others now held in Iraq, Curley said....
The question is, of course, will anyone care? Congress is debating just how far they want to go in legalizing torture and show trials; the issue of the Disappeared in Iraq and elsewhere isn't anywhere near their radar. The public at large won't care; it's very far away and doesn't involve unjustly imprisoned Americans ... that they know of, anyway. The only people who will notice or care are diplomats abroad, and we already know how much this administration cares about them.
Those people are doomed to rot in those prisons, at least until the US abandons Iraq to its fate, as it's going to have to do, sooner rather than later. With a desperately underequipped, understrength, and overextended military abroad, and public will to continue this misadventure decreasing daily, abandonment is clearly an issue of when, not if. The only questions are, how justly will the US deal with those it has imprisoned before it abandons them ... or will it just leave the question to the Iraqis and others to deal with?Posted by iain at September 18, 2006 01:47 AM