Are Iraq's Detainees Treated Fairly?
Yahoo News/Time
November 14, 2007

The U.S. military prison system in Iraq is a labyrinth that currently holds about 25,000 people. Each day, a few more are thrown into the judicial maze - a limbo to which most have no access to lawyers, since they are treated as enemy combatants. U.S. officials stress that the detainee population largely represents people who would likely be involved in insurgent violence or militia activity if they were allowed into the streets. "There are [innocent] people who get swept up," said U.S. Col. Mark Martins, a staff judge advocate who works on law and order issues with Iraqi authorities. "There's no doubt that happens." Still, he says, "Thousands of them actually get released within the first 24 hours, as people sort it out."

But what happens if they don't?

Whether guilty or innocent, those detainees are then likely to be in for a months-long journey of questioning and petitions. Citing a provision of the Geneva Convention and U.N. Security Council resolutions, U.S. forces in Iraq claim authority to arrest individuals deemed a threat to either the government of Iraq or U.S.-led multinational troops in the country. Initially, anyone arrested by U.S. forces can be held informally for about 14 days before their case gets officially started. After that, the detainee is sent to a U.S. detention compound if military officials decide there is enough evidence of insurgent violence or militia activity.

Most captives transferred to tented U.S. detention camps can expect to be there roughly 35 days before their case file is viewed by the Combined Review and Release Board, a panel of U.S. and Iraqi officials. Detainees are allowed to offer a written statement to the panel, but they do not appear in person before it. After a reading of a detainee's file, the panel then recommends whether to continue holding the person or not, though final release authority rests with the U.S. commander of detention operations, Major General Douglas Stone.

Detainees who remain in U.S. custody can try again for release in six months by going in person before the Multi-National Force Review Committee, a panel of U.S. officials who sometimes consult with Iraqi authorities on cases. This panel can offer a recommendation as well, but Stone still has the final say. Any detainee considered likely to take part in violence continues to be held, with an opportunity to appeal the decision every six months.

U.S. officials say the average detainee remains held for 10 to 12 months. Detainees can take classes in English, Arabic, math and other subjects at the compounds, which U.S. officials say still have plenty of room for more inmates as the surge continues.

Those detainees eventually okayed for release by U.S. officials sign a pledge saying they will not get involved in violence against Iraqi forces or U.S.-led coalition troops. The pledge, usually co-signed by a relative of the detainee, is presented to an Iraqi judge. The matter is then considered closed by the Americans and the Iraqi authorities, and the detainee is free to go.

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