Families Hunt for Iraq's "Lost"
- Families Hunt for Iraq's "Lost"
David Enders, The Christian Science Monitor
Monday 01 May 2006
More than 34,000 Iraqis have been jailed, but officials often do not
Baghdad - At the small, crowded prisoner-tracking department of the
Ministry of Human Rights (MOHR), tears often flow freely.
"He was arrested from his house on December 25," sobs Jameela Abdullah
Hikmet, who was looking for her brother, Jameel Abdullah Hikmet.
With thousands of Iraqis kidnapped and arrested over the past three
years, often in murky circumstances, the MOHR has become one more
place Iraqis look for missing relatives. More than 34,000 Iraqis,
according to MOHR figures, are held at one of the dozens of prisons
across the country run by either the US military or the Iraqi
Ministries of Interior, Defense, and Justice.
The system has become more organized in recent months, but prisoners
are still "lost," says one Iraqi official. Ms. Hikmet says she visited
morgues first, believing initially that her brother had been taken by
men posing as government officials.
Hikmet says she then visited dozens of prisons before she was told by
an official at the Ministry of Interior (MOI) that her brother was
being held by the Wolf Brigade, one of the ministry's elite police
units. She was then sent to the MOHR, which tracks prisoners in the US
military and Iraqi detention systems centrally. She has been coming to
the MOHR for two weeks, but they can still not confirm that it is the
MOI that is holding her brother.
Even for prisoners who can be located, families often face confusing
circumstances and long waits before legal proceedings take place. As
the US military has tried to turn over more responsibilities to the
Iraqi government since 2004, some prisoners have been transferred
Fayyez Daoud has been in Iraqi or US custody for more than a year
without charges. His family says that he was mistakenly arrested after
being injured in crossfire during a tribal dispute in March 2005 near
his home in Haswa, one of the capital's western suburbs.
His family says that he was first in the custody of the Iraqi National
Guard (ING), then the US. Then, they say, he was moved back into Iraqi
custody after the US military pulled out of their base in Haswa,
leaving it under the control of the ING. Now he is in a Ministry of
Defense (MOD) prison, the MOHR says.
Last month, his family received a letter from Mr. Daoud via MOHR. It
read, in part: "I have decided to commit suicide, because it is the
only solution available. These people want us to die in prison of
broken hearts. If slow death is our destiny, why shouldn't we speed it
MOHR and US officials both say that they are working to speed up the
process for trying and releasing detainees. International human rights
groups have reported that some prisoners have been held as long as two
years without due process. Daoud's lawyers, who have also represented
other prisoners, accuse the MOD and MOI of stalling cases.
Under current Iraqi law, it is illegal for anybody but the Ministry of
Justice (MOJ) to operate prisons, but the MOJ says it is not receiving
training or new facilities quickly enough to accommodate the thousands
of prisoners in various custodies.
"The Ministry of Interior used to avoid transferring detainees to the
Ministry of Justice," says Saad Sultan, director of the MOHR's prison
Jumaa Hussein, the general in charge of the MOJ's prisons, says that
though his department has been operating for more than two years, only
two new prisons are under construction, and that those can only hold
1,600 prisoners total.
"We have asking the ministry to speed it up," Mr. Hussein says. "They
just hadn't planned for this. If more prisons are not built, maybe
there will be more human rights violations in the future. The number
of prisoners is growing."
Daoud's family suspects he has been tortured while in custody. Mr.
Sultan says his office visits each of the country's declared prisons
every seven to 10 days and that they have continued to find instances
of abuse and torture, especially at the hands of Iraqi police.
Also hard to track are prisoners kept at brigade level both by the US
military, which does not officially track prisoners until they are
held in one of four major theater-level facilities, and by some of the
MOI forces, which continue to operate their own prisons. Though Sultan
says some of the MOI's brigade prisons had been shut down in recent
months, there are at least three still operating.
Jumaa says the US military is training his men to take over Camp Bucca
- which presently holds nearly 7,000 prisoners, says the MOJ - in as
soon as six months. The MOJ took over the existing buildings at Abu
Ghraib last year, though the US military maintains an outdoor prison
The US has also recently begun transferring prisoners to Fort Suse, a
recently opened prison near Sulaymaniyah in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled
north, in preparation for shutting down US operations at Abu Ghraib
Families of prisoners and Iraqi human rights groups have complained
that it is hard for Arab families to visit their relatives in Suse
because of discrimination against them by Kurdish security forces, and
Arab Sunnis have complained that the trip to Bucca, near Basra, has
become dangerous because of the risk of being arrested by Shiite
security forces while traveling there.
Sultan says that the moving of prisoners from Abu Ghraib prison, near
Baghdad, to locations in the south and the north, was a direct result
of the impossibility of keeping prisoners safe in restive central
Iraq. At least 35 prisoners have been killed by insurgent mortar
strikes at Abu Ghraib since 2003 and dozens more injured.
"What should we do? Build each person a prison next to his house?"
"Where is my son? Where is my son?"
Truth About Iraqis
May 1, 2006
Look at this picture. [See website] Now look at the grimace on the
woman's face. The pieces of paper she is holding read: "Where is my
son, O Government? Where is my son?"
The woman is looking for her son, one of tens of thousands detained by
Iraq's new security forces and "lost" in the system.
The three groups who researched what they called "widespread" torture
and detainee abuse by US personnel said many abuses were never
investigated, or inquiries were often concluded or stalled without
This is not the first time we have heard of "disappearances". In fact,
Iraqi mothers, sisters, and fathers have complained of their
disappeared sons, brothers, fathers, and uncles.
The Sunday Times of London cites witnesses who said on Aug. 8, 40
police and Interior Ministry vehicles lined a street in the Iskan
neighborhood and escorted masked members of a controversial militia as
they rounded up 22 men. The 22 were found later in the desert more
than 70 miles from home, blindfolded, bound and dead from one or two
But the world tells them to shut up. And one misguided professor tells
them they would be safer if their country was divided into five
sectors. Prof, tell that to this distraught woman, if you please.
The top United Nations envoy in Iraq today voiced serious concern over
the human rights situation in the war-torn country, including
allegations of extra-judicial executions, consistent reports of
excessive use of force and mass detentions of people without warrants,
and the displacement of populations in security operations...
Freedom. Democracy. Liberty. Pluralism. Federalism. Community of
nations. International law. Geneva conventions. Waste of paper ...
And I still hear from some pitiful souls who say "hey, it happened
under Saddam, so it's okay if it happens now".
Gianni Magazzeni said that of the 15,000 people held under Iraqi
control, little more than half were under the jurisdiction of the
justice ministry.This is the only body with the right to detain
suspects for more than 72 hours.But he said thousands were also being
detained by the interior ministry and hundreds by the defence
ministry, in clear breach of Iraqi law.
But this poor woman's words ring louder than any paper written by
lawyers, think tanks, and political pundits.
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