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The Raw Story November 15, 2005

Exclusive: More than 13,000 being held by coalition in Iraqi prisons; Less than 2% have been convicted

As more and more Iraqis have been detained and released, the insurgency has intensified. The number detained has more than doubled in the last year and a half; the number of attacks has also more than doubled over the same period.

By Larisa Alexandrovna

Recent documents leaked to RAW STORY reveal that as of Nov. 8, coalition forces in Iraq held 13,514 in Iraqi prisons. The documents also reveal the grim landscape of Iraq’s internment system, in which just two percent of those detained been convicted. A UN report has confirmed the basic figures.

A slide created by Detainee Operations at US Central Command (CENTCOM), provided to RAW STORY, reveals that 13,514 detainees are currently held inside coalition-run internment camps throughout Iraq. The figure represents a huge spike from March 2004 – when just 5,673 were reported held, according to a source familiar with the documents.

U.S. forces have held 35,000 detainees in Iraq since the onset of war. Of those, only 1,300 have been tried, and only half of those tried have been convicted, averaging roughly two percent of the detainee population.

The combined figures of those detainee in both Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 is upwards of 70,000.

According to CENTCOM sources, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq has so far held 684 ‘Coalition trials’ involving 1,259 security detainees, in which a total of only 636 detainees were convicted. Sources say that in total more than 21,000 detainees have been released from Iraq internment facilities.

The CENTCOM slide contains a graphical breakdown of each camp and its detainee population. Included in this count are Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca, Camp Cropper, Fort Suse and Camp Ashraf. Other, less known camps are not included in this count, including Al-Kazimiyah and Al-Nasiriyah. Sources familiar with US detention camps also point to an alleged facility at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, as well as an installation on the USS Baton. Raw Story has been unable to confirm facilities at these two locations.

Incarceration by U.S. troops fueling insurgency?

A significant proportion of those who have been detained and subjected to abuse are joining (or rejoining) the insurgency upon their release. A year after the invasion, according to official U.S. figures, the average number of insurgent attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces was less than 200 per week. The number of attacks in October 2005, however, is now at its highest level ever: more than 550 attacks per week. The average number of civilian casualties per day is also at the highest recorded figure: more than 60 per day.

As more and more Iraqis have been detained and released, the insurgency has intensified. The number detained has more than doubled in the last year and a half; the number of attacks has also more than doubled over the same period. Evidence suggests the current system of abusive detentions is a significant factor.

Camp Cropper, housed at the Baghdad International Airport, is considered to be the prime locaition of the worst detainee abuse and was the precursor on detainee abuse techniques to Abu Ghraib. Among the scandals of Camp Cropper, the most notable is the 2003 shooting of five unarmed detainees. Though Camp Cropper was alleged to have been shut down in September of 2003, it still continues to operate, according to the CENTCOM slide.

According to John Pike, Director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington D.C. based military and intelligence research group, the most striking element of the graphical breakdown is the large population of detainees in camp Bucca.

“The overall number is in the ballpark I would have expected, but that's a much bigger number at camp Bucca than I would have anticipated," Pike said. "You just don't hear that much about Camp Bucca. You would not have thought of it as being the primary holding facility.”

Concerns over torture and release

According to a report issued by the Department of Defense in October of this year, "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq," the Central Criminal Court of Iraq has handed down only 522 convictions (some cases involved multiple defendants). The CCCI is responsible for hearing cases of terrorism and crimes against the Coalition. It is only after a conviction has been handed down that a detainee is handed over to the custody of the Iraqi government.

This information supports what sources close to the Defense Department have previously expressed concern about to RAW STORY, namely that detainees held and tortured and then released essentially become the enemy army. According to these sources, who declined to go on the record by name, hundreds of detainees are released each month, having been detained for periods of six to twelve months, during which they are subjected to torture or other abuse.

Pike is uncertain about detainee abuse contributing to the rise in insurgent attacks, but does point to Jordan as a clear example of the possibility.

“In terms of these facilities contributing to the insurgency, I don't have a strongly held view on that one way or the other," he said. "But certainly if you think about Zarqawi's second detention in Jordan, you would have to conclude that Jordan's prisons were basically manufacturing terrorists because it's basically a meeting ground for ideologues and hooligans.”

The schism between detention and torture on one hand and the small number of convictions on the other indicates that some other motive and process are at play.

During an interview earlier this year with Al-Sharqiva TV, current Director for National Intelligence John Negroponte was asked about detainee abuse and internment. The reporter indicated that his own relatives were being held without charges.

“Q: (Al-Iraq Al-Yoom) Regarding the issue of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib, Buka, and Umm Qasr, when will the file of these detainees be transferred to the Iraqi government? What is the process for this matter? Personally, I have two relatives who are being detained at Abu Ghraib, despite the fact that no charges have been brought against them.

N: This is a question that should be directed to the MNF-I, which is the authority that handles all military and Iraqi detainee issues. Generally speaking, I know that the Iraqi Criminal Court is dealing with these cases but the problem lies in the Court not being able to handle this great number of cases fast enough. The Embassy is working through our Justice Department to help strengthen the independent Iraqi judiciary as an institution and to make the legal process more effective. As for your relatives, you can obtain specific information regarding their situation from the MNF-I.”

The Iraqi criminal court, however, does not have access to detainees until after they are convicted by coalition courts. Many express concern that prolonged detainment and torture may provide a rallying point for terrorists.

"I am sure you would agree that prolonged detention without trial, and that any treatment which is cruel, inhuman or degrading, is unacceptable," British Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell wrote UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a letter acquired by RAW STORY. "In relation to these matters, are you satisfied that international law is being respected in Iraq? Do you agree that if these standards are being breached, this would constitute the violation of human rights and could generate resentment and ill-will towards multi-national forces which would in turn contribute to the insurgency?"

Straw has not replied. The full CENTCOM slide follows.

Larisa Alexandrovna can be reached at larisa@rawstory.com. Reporters seeking additional information are encouraged to contact her at that address.

Copyright 2005, ARaw Story Media, Inc.