Just What Iraq Needs

Just what Iraq needs: more prisons.

Never mind that the country suffers from dirty water and shortages of medicine and electricity. Never mind that raw sewage regularly spills into the streets of Baghdad. Never mind that unemployment stands at over 60 percent. Never mind that of all these essential services are less available than before the invasion.

Never mind all that.

The Bush administration has determined that all the new money allocated to rebuilding Iraq should go to prisons.

“This is the one bit of construction we will be doing,” the State Department’s James Jeffrey told Reuters. According to the wire service, the Bush administration will be asking Congress for $100 million to expand the number of people that can be incarcerated in Iraqi prisons.

This seems a little odd to me. Sunni Arab guerillas in Iraq have been accusing the new Iraqi government, which is dominated by Shi’ite religious parties, of running sectarian death squads inside the Iraqi police and military.

An Iraqi NGO six weeks ago catalogued 125 reports of torture inside Iraqi-run prisons, according to a United Nations newswire. According to the Prisoners Association for Justice, former detainees often reported that they were beaten with cables, kicked in the testicles, burned with cigarettes, forced to wear hoods for days at a time, and forced to sign confessions while under interrogation.

“I was tortured by the Iraqi army and they used horrible ways to get information out of me,” said Fahed Ahmed. “But after three months, they released me without any proof I was helping the insurgency.” Ahmed said that beatings with cables was a “common punishment,” and further claimed he had been raped twice while in detention by soldiers of the Iraqi army.

Meanwhile, in Kurdistan, the local authorities sentenced a high-profile journalist with an Australian passport to 30 years behind bars.

And the situation isn’t any better in the American-run prisons.

Two years after the first disgusting images from Abu Ghraib came to light, the United States military holds more than 14,000 people behind bars (this is in addition to those in Iraqi-run prisons). These prisoners are never given any kind of definite sentence and never get an open trial.

And so the prisons become a breeding ground for the insurgency.

According to John Pace, the recently resigned United Nation’s Chief for Human Rights in Iraq, 80-90 percent of those incarcerated are innocent. “These people are innocent,” he told Pacifica’s Democracy Now! program, “and when they are rounded up, by the time that they leave, quite a number of them are no longer as innocent as they were when they entered. Because obviously they are exposed to hardcore people who have a certain degree of violent instinct in them.”

In addition, being wrongly imprisoned can leave a bad taste in your mouth – especially if when you’re released you find that all the money for reconstruction is being diverted to prisons, while you have no job, no electricity, and no clean water.