The George W. Bush administration went well beyond refusing to negotiate with terrorists in its handling of the threat by freelance journalist Jill Carroll‘s abductors to kill her if all female detainees were not released from U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.
According to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials delayed the scheduled release of six female prisoners whom they knew had already been found innocent because of the kidnappers’ demand for their release. Then they refused to speed up the review of the files of the five remaining female prisoners, in violation of a policy of giving priority to females in the review of detainee files for release.
Had the normal policy been followed, it is very likely that all the women held by the United States would have been released by now. By delaying the releases of female detainees to strike a tough anti-terrorism pose, the administration has increased the risk to Jill Carroll’s life.
Carroll’s abductors, who threatened on Jan. 17 to kill Carroll if all female detainees were not released by Jan. 20, did not carry out the threat. But they announced a new deadline of Feb. 26 for the release of all the female detainees in a video aired by a Kuwaiti TV station over the weekend.
When the initial deadline was announced by Carroll’s abductors, a major release of hundreds of prisoners had already been planned, and Iraqi officials had expected six female detainees to be included among them.
The Iraqi ministries of justice and human rights revealed to reporters that they had reviewed the cases of the six women brought to them and had recommended to U.S. authorities that all six be released on the grounds that there was no solid evidence against them. Apparently the release had originally been scheduled before the deadline announced by Carroll’s captors.
"In my opinion, all of them are innocent," said Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim Ali.
The Pentagon, however, at first refused even to comment on the possible release of the women. When the Jan. 20 deadline was aired by the al-Jazeera television network, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter of the Central Command was quoted as saying of the female detainees, "There is no expected resolution of their cases in the near future."
But Reuters reported on Jan. 25 that Iraqi officials "have been at odds with their U.S. counterparts" over the release of the women, and that the Iraqis were suggesting that "the delay in releasing the women was linked to the demands of the kidnappers of Carroll."
Thus U.S. officials contrary to the expressed position of the Iraqi authorities involved were blocking the release of six female detainees as part of a previously scheduled release. That decision was apparently motivated by a desire to appear tougher on terrorism to the U.S. public.
On Jan. 26, five of the six women were released, along with 419 others. The sixth woman, whom the Iraqi officials had judged innocent, is still being detained without explanation.
Even after that release, a total of six women were still held in U.S. prisons in the country. Jill Carroll’s life was still in danger, as nothing had been heard from her captors since the original deadline had been announced on Jan. 17.
But the problem of female detainees could have been resolved quickly under existing U.S. policy. U.S. command spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson alluded to that policy on Jan. 20 when he said, "Of course, we understand the cultural sensitivities in detaining females and pay particular attention to assessing their files."
Reporters understood that Johnson meant that the U.S. military would make special efforts to process the cases of women more quickly than those of men. Dan Murphy of the Christian Science Monitor, for which Carroll had been writing, reported Jan. 26 that the policy of giving priority to releases of women was prompted by the "anger and violence generated by U.S. detention of women."
The six women remaining in prison could have been considered for another release scheduled to take place on Feb. 5. When 50 more prisoners were released on that date, however, none of the six female prisoners was among them. In order to avoid any appearance of being responsive to the kidnappers, the U.S. command had not even followed its own policy on female detainees.
The U.S. command has claimed that all the women who are detained are considered dangerous to security. All detainees are automatically charged with "aiding terrorists or planting explosives."
Based on the record of the first two and a half years of the U.S. system of detention, however, it is almost certain that every one of the women still detained will ultimately be freed because of lack of evidence against them.
Last November, Raw Story, an alternative Web-based news site, reported figures from the U.S. Central Command showing that 35,000 people had been detained for extended periods since the beginning of the war, of whom 21,000 had been released and only 1,259 ever formally accused of illegal activities. Of those who were accused, only 636 were convicted.
Thus, 98.6 percent of the detainees in the U.S. system have eventually been released.
Documents obtained the American Civil Liberties Union and the testimony of former detainees and a U.S. general suggest that most of the female detainees over the past two years were being held because of family ties to suspected insurgents.
Nancy Youssef of Knight-Ridder reported on Jan. 28 that a woman who had been detained at Baghdad International Airport in September 2004 said she found that all eight women in her cell had been detained only because their husbands or fathers were suspected of being in the insurgency.
A memo by a civilian intelligence officer who participated in a raid on the house of suspect near Baghdad in May 2004 recalled that units carrying out the operation were told that, if the wife of the suspect was present, she should be "detained and held in order to leverage the primary target’s surrender."
Former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was the military police commander at Abu Ghraib prison when the abuse story broke, told the Associated Press that she knew of "perhaps 15 or 20 cases" of detention of wives of suspects in 2003, and that it was the practice for "higher-value detainees."
As the Christian Science Monitor‘s Dan Murphy observed, Iraqis generally assume that U.S. prisons still abuse female detainees, regardless of changes that may have been made in U.S. policy on their treatment.
Iraqi memories of the abuses of women in Abu Ghraib remain an open wound. A letter smuggled out of Abu Ghraib in December 2003 told of multiple rapes of prisoners and of several women who had become pregnant.
The "Taguba report" on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses said photographs shot by U.S. guards at the prison included images of both male and female prisoners stripped naked, a male guard in a pose of having sex with a female detainee, and naked male and female detainees forcibly arranged in various sexual positions.
(Inter Press Service)