How Due Process Works at Camp Bucca
The Washington Post has a four-page article today on the detainees at American prisons in Iraq. While conditions may have improved from the days of Abu Ghraib abuses, the likelihood of receiving due process apparently has not.
Here's one example: Talib Mohammed Farkhan, who was held for 15 months before being told the reasons for his detention. He learned them at his first hearing. Here's what happened:
[He]shuffled into Hearing Room 3 to hear his U.S. captors explain the allegations against him for the first time.
Farkhan, a Shiite Muslim, appeared to follow along as the American officers said he had been detained for membership in the Mahdi Army, the anti-American Shiite militia. But he looked totally baffled when they also accused him of working with al-Qaeda in Iraq, the extremist Sunni Muslim group that kills Americans and Shiites.
"I don't understand how that could be possible," said a visibly flustered Farkhan, a welder from the southern city of Iskandariyah, who denied all the accusations. "They are Sunni. I am Shia."
The hearing officers (non-lawyers) had this response:
Yet the three U.S. servicemen before him, a panel of non-lawyers convened as part of a new quasi-judicial process to review each detainee's case every six months, did not need to decide whether Farkhan had violated the law. Their task was to decide whether he posed an "imperative security threat" to the U.S.-led coalition or the Iraqi people. And they concluded that credible evidence, which they would not describe to Farkhan or a Washington Post correspondent allowed to view the 19-minute hearing, suggested that he probably did.
"I'm not looking at whether they are guilty or innocent," said Air Force Maj. Jeff Ghiglieri, the president of the review board that convened in May. "We're trying to determine as best we can whether they will do bad things if we release them." Minutes later, the panel unanimously voted to detain Farkhan for another six months.
It appears that the men will be released once the U.S. turns the prisons over to the Iraqis.
But the recently approved U.S.-Iraqi security agreement will soon require the American military to release the 16,000 Iraqi detainees -- the vast majority of them held in this southern desert prison -- or refer them to the nation's courts. As the U.S. military detention system here begins to come under Iraqi control, a complicated joint effort is underway to determine which of the men are safe to release and which may be insurgents.
"Most of the people they detain are innocent," said Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.
More than 100,000 have been detained in U.S. run overseas detention centers. That's 100 times more than at Guantanamo. Instead of due process, they get this:
100 times as many prisoners have been held at Camp Bucca and other Iraqi sites with far fewer legal rights and no oversight by the American court system. The Iraqis are not charged with crimes, permitted to see the evidence against them or provided lawyers.
But the Iraqi captives are now offered religious, academic and vocational classes. They are permitted to meet with relatives in person or long distance via videoconferencing equipment. The detainees at Camp Bucca, many of whom like to read Agatha Christie mysteries and watch Jackie Chan movies, have their own choir, intramural soccer league and a workshop to produce stuffed animals called Bucca Bears.
The U.S. military believes this treatment will overcome the negative perception of Americans:
"This used to be a jihadi university that was just breeding more terrorists," said Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, who ran the detention system until this summer. "Now we are engaging the detainees and using detainee operations to teach the Iraqis here and improve their perception of Americans."
I doubt that's going to happen. As one released prisoner who has nothing but praise for the treatment he received and the skills he learned while incarcerated at Bucca, says:
"Even if they turn the place into a paradise," he said, "it is still a prison full of innocent men."
The Post reporters visited Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper. More than 300 juveniles are among the prisoners held at Cropper. The last part of the article details a 16 year old's hearing:
Saleh, who was captured in Baghdad in August 2007, denied he had done anything wrong. When he left the room, Le Moyne said: "He could benefit from more evaluation. I don't think he's a member of an international terrorist group; I think he's a stupid kid." Although Saleh qualified for amnesty under an Iraqi law passed earlier this year, the panel voted to hold him for six more months of detention.
The point repeated over and over is that the panel doesn't try to figure out if someone is guilty or innocent. I'm still not sure what it is trying to assess and how holding innocent men for years can be considered justifiable under any standard, let alone one from a nation that is founded on principles of due process.
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