Mistreatment Of Detainees Went Beyond Guards' Abuse
"This is just like the days of Saddam," said Khalid Saadi Awad, who wanted to enter the building to see whether his cousin was on trial. "The Americans have established a secret court."
Daniel Senor, a spokesman for the occupation authority, said the court is supposed to be open and attributed the closure to "an overzealous Iraqi security team." On most days, he said, "trials are open to the public for full viewing."
Shemari and other lawyers said they also faced difficulties in handling the cases of suspected criminals. Although Iraqi judges are supposed to adjudicate their cases, coordination problems between Iraqi courts and American-run prisons -- the former tracks prisoners by name and the latter by number -- mean that many detainees are never brought before a judge, the lawyers said.
"Where's the justice here?" said Nabil Abadi, an attorney for two non-security detainees. "The simplest right of a prisoner is to have a lawyer and to be brought before a judge. The Americans don't even allow this."
Human rights advocates here said the U.S. military and occupation authority took important steps in November to improve the system by opening neighborhood centers where families could get basic information about detained relatives.
But the idea lost much of its impact because U.S. officials failed to advertise the location of the centers, nine of which are open in Baghdad today. In addition, human rights workers say, U.S. officials faced a number of difficulties arising from language barriers that kept families from finding out the status of detained relatives, many of whom had simply disappeared.
Hania Mufti, an investigator for Human Rights Watch, said U.S. officials posted the names of detainees in English, so few families were able to read them. Furthermore, she said, rendering Arabic names into English led to many spelling inconsistencies that prevented families from locating sons and husbands on lists.
Visitation Rights Denied
The result, according to the Red Cross report, was that many prisoners were denied visitation rights. "The uncaring behavior of the CF [coalition forces] and their inability to quickly provide accurate information on persons deprived of their liberty for the families concerned seriously affects the image of the Occupying Powers among the Iraqi population," the report concludes.
Khulud Abdulwahab, 56, watched last August as U.S. troops hauled away her son and two nephews from their home in the town of Khalis in the Sunni Triangle. A former soldier in the Iraqi army, Harith, her son, was picked up based on information provided by a paid informer who told soldiers he was a member of the resistance.
Convinced of her son's innocence, Abdulwahab quit her job as an elementary school mathematics teacher to devote herself full time to securing his release. In April, she said, she believed she had nearly done so.
After petitioning the local Army base for help, Abdulwahab received a letter from the unit that arrested him stating that the men were wrongly accused. Written on Department of the Army stationery, it says the informer "is currently being tried in Iraqi courts in Khalis for bearing false witness."
"This false witness was the sole information used to detain the prisoner," says the letter, signed by the unit's executive officer. "All these men are innocent of the crimes they are accused of."
Since then, Abdulwahab has made the 400-mile journey by taxi to the Army's bleak prison camp in Umm Qasr five times, at a cost of about $100 per trip. And each time she has been rebuffed by prison guards, many of them Kuwaitis and Egyptians, who she said treat her with contempt.
"They told me this is no good, they won't work with this paper, and that I should just throw it away," Abdulwahab said. "I just want them to release my son from this heat and humiliation."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company