Mistreatment Of Detainees Went Beyond Guards' Abuse
He said he did not know where he was taken because the soldiers did not remove his blindfold. They started beating him with pipes, he said, starting on his legs and back, then moving to his head.
"I was bleeding from my mouth and my ears," he said. "I fainted. When I woke up I was in a dog's cage" set in a courtyard of a local military base.
Naked in a Cage
Khatab said he was left naked in the cage for several days, receiving only scant food and water, until the soldiers hung him from a tree by his cuffed hands. "They told me they would bring my wife and hang her next to me," he said.
According to his release papers, Khatab was taken to Abu Ghraib, where he was held for four months before being released without an explanation. His two brothers are still in the prison, he said.
When U.S. forces rolled into Iraq in March 2003, there were few plans in place for dealing with the long-term detention of Iraqis, according to U.S. officials. Military trucks hauled coils of razor wire, which were used to create makeshift holding pens and jails on American bases.
The following month, after Hussein's government fell and Iraqi security forces effectively dissolved, U.S. troops found themselves responsible for detaining common criminals as well as senior members of Hussein's government. American detention centers, particularly a tent camp at Baghdad's airport, filled with looters, carjackers and thieves.
"The Iraqi system was totally destroyed," said New Jersey Superior Court Judge Donald F. Campbell, who served as the occupation authority's senior adviser to Iraq's Justice Ministry from April to September. "There were virtually no cells to hold Iraqis within their system when we arrived."
As guerrilla assaults on U.S. forces increased last summer, the U.S.-run jails were further swollen by Iraqis suspected of conducting or aiding attacks. By the early fall, there were thousands of these security detainees in U.S. custody.
They were held under the fourth Geneva Convention, which allows an occupying power, "for imperative reasons of security," to intern people deemed a risk to national stability. Unlike ordinary criminals, who are supposed to face trial in an Iraqi court, security detainees have generally not been granted access to attorneys. Instead, their continued detention is subject to the determination of a special panel composed of representatives of the U.S. military command's judge advocate general's office and the CIA, according to a person familiar with the process.
Under the Geneva Convention, detainees have the right to appeal and their detention should be reviewed every six months, but it is not known whether such practices were followed; U.S. military officials have not commented on the decision-making process, which occurs in secret.
"The system is not fair at all," said Malik Dohan, the president of the Iraqi Bar Association. "Aside from the question of torture, people are being held for long periods of time without having their cases reviewed by a court."
Although anguished relatives of security detainees often hire lawyers in the hope of obtaining a release, the lawyers have little recourse. "I have no solution," said Rajaa Shemari, an attorney for 13 security detainees. "Nobody knows the procedure. The lawyer has no role in these cases."
'A Secret Court'
The occupation authority set up a special court, the Central Criminal Court of Iraq, in July to try some of the security detainees. But the court has moved slowly, completing only 87 investigations so far, according to a Defense Department report.
The court itself, located in a building that used to be a museum of Hussein's memorabilia, is closed to the public. A reporter who tried to enter was turned away twice by guards. "You cannot go in," one guard said. "Only lawyers and witnesses are permitted."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company