Iraqi detainees held at Camp Bucca detention center near the Kuwait-Iraq border. (Photo: AFP / Getty Images)
When an Iraqi is pulled off the street by US forces or captured in combat, that person is facing enrollment in the "population engagement program called detention."
This description of the US imprisonment of thousands of Iraqis was offered by Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, former commander of Task Force 134 (TF-134), the unit in charge of US detention prisons in Iraq, speaking at a Pentagon press briefing in June 2008 at the completion of his 14-month tour in Iraq.
"The detention system in Iraq," he said, "now functions as a counterinsurgency tool that combats terrorist ideology."
To more fully understand the nature of the US "counterinsurgency tool" that operates in the US detention system in Iraq, Consumers for Peace submitted questions to TF-134 over the last three months. TF-134's responses, excerpted below, outline a concerted program of re-education and inducement designed to persuade Iraqis to accept the control of the US-Iraqi occupation government.
TF-134 says Iraqis are detained only because they present a threat of violence. The very existence of the re-education program indicates that decisions about holding people in US detention facilities may also be based on the desire to convert Iraq's resistance fighters into active or passive supporters of the US-Iraqi government.
According to TF-134, Iraqis are deeply involved in determining how prisoners will be categorized and segregated in prison and in the re-education process.
TF-134 affirms that those who are captured by US forces are not permitted to have the help of legal counsel in seeking their freedom or in any other aspect of their handling. As will be discussed, the final decision on their freedom is in the hands of the US military.
The "In" Process
When an Iraqi is captured, according to a TF-134 spokesperson, he or she (only about 10 of the 17,700 Iraqis currently in US prisons in Iraq are women) will be questioned and either be immediately released or be held for further questioning and appraisal: "The capturing unit has a review and release process that begins at the point of capture and is allowed to continue for up to 21 days before the person is moved into a theater internment facility (TIF) and the custody of MNF-I/TF 134 (Multi-National Force - Iraq/Task Force 134)."
"Most detainees were captured as the result of an Iraqi-generated warrant for some act that would classify them as a threat," said the TF-134 spokesman. "Unfortunately, often there are false reports that cause a person to be captured unnecessarily. When the capturing coalition security force determines that the person is not a threat, he is released. This determination is sometimes made at the point of capture, and the person is never taken anywhere. Most common is that during the initial interviews the investigators come to the realization that the person should not have been captured."
"No one has been detained by Coalition forces for something they've said in the presence of Coalition forces," the TF-134 spokesman said in answer to a question about whether a person will be arrested for political statements. But, he said: "Often Iraqis charge one another because of something they've heard about someone, causing a warrant to be issued."
A captured person is permitted to notify his or her family, the spokesperson said, but: "Some choose not to notify anyone that they have been captured, typically because they do not want their family to know that they were involved in activities that would get them detained."
TF-134 says that about half of those captured are released within the 21-day investigation period. The other half are sent to US prisons in Iraq.
The "ultimate deciding factor" in whether a person goes to a US prison, the spokesperson said, is whether he or she has committed a violent act that "poses an imperative threat to the security and stability of the people of Iraq, its government or the Iraq Security Forces, or Coalition forces." Another consideration, TF-134's command brief says, is "affiliation with insurgent groups."
"Green, Amber and Red" Prisoners in Yellow Clothes
As indicated above, an Iraqi who has not been released after the initial screening is sent to a TIF (theater internment facility) - either Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad airport, which currently holds about 1,700 Iraqis, according to TF-134, or Camp Bucca, a desert prison camp that covers about 100 acres and now confines about 15,900. These Youtube videos provide a sense of the physical and atmospheric characteristics of Cropper and Bucca.
As discussed in Part I of this series, as of the Fall of 2008, about 25 Iraqis enter US prisons each day and about 75 are released, according to TF-134. The figures were the reverse in early 2007 during the US military "surge."
The prisoner is assigned to sections or compounds within the prisons, and to a path of "education," based on how he or she is categorized upon entry into the system. The TF-134 spokesman explained the categorization process as follows:
"All detainees are evaluated during their in-processing to the TIFs by Iraqi clerics and social workers and by military intelligence service members to determine their perceived level of commitment to whatever the event or motivation was that resulted in their capture. The resulting decision is their initial status of green (moderate), amber (somewhat extreme in their beliefs) or red (very extreme or committed)." (One definition of extremist in the US Army-Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual is a person "whose beliefs prevent them from ever reconciling with the government.")
The spokesman said that, not only at the beginning of confinement but throughout, "continuous assessments are made to ensure that accurate categorization of the detainee is being used." Many internees are moved to different compounds and recategorized every day, he said.
"The specific methods and criteria for this process vary based upon the interviewers' level of experience, which is why the categorizations are continuously reevaluated," the TF-134 spokesman continued, noting: "We have found that generally the most accurate assessments come from Iraqi clerics and social workers."
Discussing prisoners in the "amber" and "red" categories, the spokesman said:
"Between both Camps Cropper and Bucca, approximately 4,000 internees have been identified as extremists. Their perceived level of extremist behavior determines their initial placement in either an amber or red compound. The detainees are continuously observed and evaluated in the effort to defeat the extremists' desire to influence and control those detainees who are less of a threat and less extreme in their beliefs. Whenever a detainee is determined to be significantly higher or lower in his or her beliefs and/or behavior, that detainee is moved to the more appropriate compound.
"Individuals in the amber and red categories are considered extremists and are only referred to as amber or red. The exception is that detainees who claim to be members of Jaysh Al Mahdi (JAM) or al-Qaeda are separated into their own compounds while in detention. Another identified group of extremists who are separated are the Takfiri, who demand a very austere lifestyle, void of modern comforts for its members and all Muslims they come in contact with."
Upon entering prison, the men are clothed in yellow pull-over tops and pants.
This categorization of prisoners for the purpose of assessing risk and type of re-education, as well as color of prison garb, is strikingly similar to what to the British did in their detention camps in Kenya during their attempt to suppress the anti-colonial Mau Mau resistance. Caroline Elkins reports in "Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya" that Kenyan prisoners entering detention were stripped of all belongings and clothes and issued a pair of yellow shorts. They were classified as "black," "grey" or "white," depending on their level of commitment to the Mau Mau program, and re-education strategies were devised - some violent - specific to each group.
The British system, like that in the US detention system, involved constant rescreening of prisoners to evaluate their thinking. It also attempted to force prisoners to adopt Christianity as a way of undermining the traditional religion that offered a spiritual base for Mau Mau organizing.
The Prison Curriculum
The summary below outlines the instruction and discussion programs for prisoners in Camps Cropper and Bucca. These programs are promoted by the US as "educational." For some detainees, the programs, such as teaching in reading and vocations, are likely to offer educational benefits. For many others, however, the informational content of the courses is likely to be irrelevant and simply a means toward pleasing jailers and more quickly being set free. The real purposes of the courses, as General Stone suggests at the outset of this article, clearly go beyond informational content and into remolding beliefs and feelings toward the power and authority of the US and the occupied government of Iraq.
US Iraq Prison Curriculum
The portions of this summary that are in quotation marks are direct quotes from a TF-134 spokesman or from a TF-134 command briefing document.
Camp Cropper - This facility is for prisoners being processed into and out of the prison system and for elderly (over 55 years), those with medical conditions, women and juveniles.
Courses - A twelve-day course including civics and "Islamic Discussion." This is "a collaborative group guided by Iraqi imams in which both Shia and Sunni peruse and discuss the teaching of the Koran. Participation in the course is triggered by a 45-day release notice, and detainees' names are taken directly from the release list. Therefore, all detainees should attend the course before release."
There is a similar voluntary course for juveniles "who were not able to attend school due to disruptive behavior." There were three classes with 15 students per class as of September 2008, "about 51 percent of the population previously judged too disruptive to attend a formal educational program."
Staff - "For the adult detainees, we currently have an average of 23 clerics and 23 social worker employed in our various programs. We run several different programs Ã‰ so not all of them will necessarily be working on religious discussion programs at any given time." For juveniles, there were in September 2008 three social workers teaching civics and three clerics for Islamic discussion. All are Iraqi. "Certified, trusted and moderate Islamic Iraqi clerics offer detainees a broader understanding of Islam."
Camp Bucca - This prison is for longer-term confinement.
Courses - Tanweer (enlightenment) - "A six-hour block of civics conducted during transition in for all internees." Four-day Tanweer Islamic Discussion Program (IDP) - "Internees classified as moderate are allowed to participate in the four-day Tanweer (IDP) program." As of September 2008, one hundred prisoners complete this program every four days, and a total of nearly 7,000 have taken the course. Ten-day Tanweer Islamic Discussion Program and Civics, also offered for "moderate" prisoners. Three-week Tanweer Program "to service internees with a more extreme interpretation of Islam and the Koran." Almost 100 prisoners have completed this course.
Staff - Twenty-five clerics, 28 social workers, 78 LN (local national) teachers and about 10 imams handling Islamic discussion groups. All are Iraqi.
Work Program - "The work and vocational educational programs include developing textile and brick manufacturing facilities that will compensate detainees for their labor, enabling them to send money home to help support their families."
Note: "Currently, the majority of the Theater Internment Facility Reconciliation Center (TIFRC) programs offered at Camps Cropper and Bucca are intended for the moderate detainees. Historical data has proven moderate detainees have a much better probability of being released back into Iraqi society. As a result, TF 134 substantiates an enhanced return on investment with the facilitation of programs toward moderate internees.
"As Camp Bucca continues to draw down the amount of moderate detainees and the population of amber/red internees remains constant, a paradigm shift in resources and manpower will be administered. The TIFRC programs will need to be modified in length and content to reach the new target audience of amber/red internees."
Source: Task Force 134 of the Multi-National Force - Iraq.
Discussing the impact of detention education, the TF-134 spokesman said that learning to read can lead to a change in thinking and behavior of detainees:
"As those who were unable to read, learn and begin to understand the Koran and Islam on their own terms, and during the Islamic Discussion sessions, as opposed to what al-Qaeda or other extremist groups have told them, they begin to change what they feel about their lives and the things they've done. That, coupled with the stark difference between how they are treated in detention as opposed to how they thought they would be treated, often cause 'amber' internees to begin living like 'greens.'
The spokesman also said that "a very common story" at Camp Bucca is that the education program makes "many detainees believe they were tricked or lied to by al-Qaeda or other extremist groups because they were illiterate. They believe that their inability to read the Koran for their self (sic) caused them to do things in the name of Islam because they were told that the Koran said they must do it. After spending time in our education program, they very quickly learn to read. The newfound skill, coupled with the Islamic Discussion Program, cause a very significant percentage to have a change of heart when they read the Koran on their own, and then discuss aspects of it with legitimate Muslim clerics."
Consumers for Peace asked that TF-134 forward curriculum materials so that we could see the content of the civics and religious studies courses. The spokesman said this was not possible because "all the textbooks that are used in our programs are donated by various ministries within the government of Iraq, local mosques, and international human rights and aide organizations. The materials have been hard to come by and are in short supply."
The Financial Times reported in April 2008 that Russian East European Partners Inc., a US company, "just won a competitive contract for managing the reintegration programs (in the US detention system) until 2010" and that the firm is "running" the religious discussion programs. An official for REEP Inc. declined to provide any information about the curriculum being used, or whom they employ, without permission of the contracting agency. The official said in August 2008 that she would find out from her superiors if this permission would be sought, but she said at this writing that she had received no response.
Incentives to "Learn"
Prisoners would appear to have a powerful incentive to go to prison school programs because, according to the TF-134 spokesman: "Participation in programs such as the civics course reflects positively on a detainee during the Multi-National Force Review Committee board." The board interviews prisoners after six months in prison to decide on their status or release.
The schoolwork would apparently give the prisoner an advantage in meeting US release criteria, outlined in the TF-134 briefing document, that include; "enough engagement while in detention to believe they will not threaten the safety and security of those working and living in Iraq" and "belief that an individual will be a contributing member of Iraqi society."
Prisoners may also be influenced by material incentives. For example, the TF-134 spokesman reports that:
"A significant portion of the red and amber compounds are populated with the very religious zealot group known as Takfiri. These men opt to refuse the comforts and conveniences afforded them not only in detention but in their daily lives. The Takfiri tend to be violent in their quest to make all Muslims live the way they interpret the Koran as saying they should live. When detainees that are not as committed to the Takfiri way of life see other detainees enjoying radios and television and cigarettes, but they cannot because of their categorization, they begin to change the way they behave in detention, so that they can be moved to more permissive environments."
The spokesman continued: "Other detainees return from their family visits asking the guard force to assist them in enrolling in the vocational and education programs offered so that they can make a better life for their family when they are released. These detainees are focused on a prosperous future when they are released, not on how they can disrupt the efforts of the government of Iraq and the Coalition Forces by violent means."
One Way Out
Persuasion of change of mind is the only way out of the US detention system, with the decision being made by the MNFRC review board, made up of US military personnel. A prisoner is not permitted to have a lawyer acting on his or her behalf at any step in the process of capture, interrogation, imprisonment and release. "There is no place for legal representation in the THREAT BASED system that we operate," the TF-134 spokesman said.
TF-134 bases its legal argument for this position on, according to the command brief: "United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs), endorsed by the government of Iraq, authorizes Coalition Forces and Iraqi Security Forces to detain individuals who are 'imperative threats' to security and stability in Iraq."
A US soldier who sat on an MNFRC review board, said in a blog posted in May 2008 that his panel recommended release for about 45 percent of the detainees whose cases were reviewed. He reported that "the release process takes a long time, around a month and a half," because a decision to release has be affirmed by the unit that captured the prisoner. If the unit disagrees, the decision goes back to the board for another review. If this decision meets resistance, he said, it goes to "a panel of generals to decide."
"Due process is given the utmost consideration at every step of the process," the soldier said, "but ultimately the highest consideration at every step of the process is the safety of our soldiers and of the Iraqi people."
The US position on legal representation has been challenged - for example, by Joseph Logan of Human Rights Watch, writing in August 2008 in The New Statesman Online:
"The MNF (Multi-National Force-Iraq) has argued that the detainees are held as imperative security threats, and are not entitled to criminal due process. International law does indeed allow for administrative detention, but the United States has not even met the basic requirements for holding people under such circumstances. The cases are reviewed by military panels, with no meaningful access to legal counsel and no judicial review - both of which detainees are entitled to under international law."
Upon release, a prisoner is required to sign a "judicial pledge" in which, the TF-134 command brief says, "the detainees promise to an Iraqi judge to maintain peace and good conduct."
International human rights lawyer Karen Parker says that the pledge has "no legal bearing" and that it is "mainly to try to intimidate and make prisoners think it means something."
The spokesman for TF-134 said that he does not know of any prisoner who refused to sign the pledge.
The Remaining "Reds and Ambers"
In the absence of legal intervention, those prisoners of the US who have not renounced whatever action or association got them captured will remain in the "red" and "amber" categories and in prison. The US and Iraqi governments are now negotiating the fate of this unrepentant remnant, which will probably number 4,000 for the indefinite future.
Mr. Logan, of Human Rights Watch, argues that the US and Iraq need to end "the legal vacuum in which the MNF holds detainees" if there is to be a just resolution for the United States' Iraqi prisoners.
Nick Mottern is director of Consumers for Peace. Bill Rau is a researcher in development issues based in Washington, DC, and the author of "Feast to Famine: Official Cures and Grassroots Remedies to Africa's Food Crisis."