Monday, July 30, 2007

Perspective: Away from public view, Iraq tries 'detainees' in U.S.-provided star chamber complex

Above: 'God help me' scrawled in Arabic on a prison door of the U.S. detention facility in Abu Grhaib. Under emergency powers, Iraqis can be 'detained' upon suspicion and without charges indefinitely.

In a city plagued by suicide bombers and renegade militias, the Americans and the Iraqi government have turned to an unusual measure to help implant the rule of law: they have erected a legal Green Zone, a heavily fortified compound to shelter judges and their families and secure the trials of some of the most dangerous suspects...

Despite its status as a protected area for trying Iraq’s most infamous terrorists and militants, the Rule of Law Complex is not immune from the many problems roiling Iraq’s legal system. They include the crush of detainees that has emerged with the surge of American and Iraqi military operations. To try to reduce the backlog of cases, detainees from overcrowded jails in Kadhimiya and elsewhere have been transported to Rusafa, where they are fingerprinted and given retina scans.

The Rusafa prison’s capacity, which started at 2,500, will expand by more than 5,000 by the end of the summer. The main detention building at Rusafa is cleaner and less malodorous than many Iraqis jails, but with 15 detainees in each cell the conditions had reached maximum capacity under international standards.

When a reporter was escorted by the Iraqi prison director through one of the newly erected tent-covered jails a short drive away, a detainee who gave his name as Dawood Yousef, 46, pressed his way to the bars and yelled that he had been picked up in a sweep of Abu Ghraib and had spent five months in various jails, including a month in Rusafa, without being told why he had been arrested or when his case would go to trial.

Read the rest at the NY Times