Iraqis, desperately seeking detainees, meet frustration
She didn't want to be a troublemaker; she's a US citizen, after all. So when American soldiers came to Jeanan Moayad's house, looking for her father, she cooperated. She showed them his medical records and her own Texas birth certificate. Her father was in Jordan, she told them, undergoing surgery. So they took her husband instead.Skip to next paragraph
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As far as she knows, her husband is not accused of any crime. But Mrs. Moayad says US troops are holding him as a human bargaining chip, telling her repeatedly that they would detain her husband until her father surrendered.
"My husband didn't do anything," says Moayad, a 35-year-old Iraqi architect who lived in Austin until she was five. Her chin trembling, she digs a tiny picture of him out of her purse, packed with documents related to his case and photos of their three children. Her husband, an architect named Dhafir Ibrahim, smiles calmly out of the scalloped frame. "He's a hostage!" she exclaims, her eyes filling with tears.
"We repudiate that absolutely," says Capt . Mark Doggett, a US military spokesman. "The coalition does not take hostages. I don't have specifics on this particular case, but I can tell you on principle that we absolutely do not take hostages such as that lady has described."
Amid a growing scandal over photographs of US soldiers abusing detained Iraqis, US occupation officials pledged last week that conditions had improved at Abu Ghraib, where Mr. Ibrahim is being held, and in other prisons in Iraq. "I will tell you that everything that goes on in Abu Ghraib today is in accordance with our procedures and policies," said Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the new head of US-run prisons in Iraq, "and is in compliance with the covenants of the Geneva Convention."
But conversations with families of detainees, as well as documents, suggest that coalition forces are still holding Iraqis who have not been charged with any crime. In a stinging 24-page report leaked last week, the International Committee of the Red Cross quoted military intelligence officers who estimated that "between 70 percent and 90 percent" of the detainees in Iraq were arrested "by mistake."
In some cases, occupation forces are even holding people whom they know to be innocent - sometimes for months after the US military itself has declared them cleared of any crime. Weeks after the scandal began to snowball, and 10 days after Miller's claim, they are still holding them.
The Fourth Geneva Convention, which guarantees the rights of civilians under military occupation, forbids the use of "moral coercion" - such as holding relatives - to get information. It also prohibits punishing anyone for an offense he or she has not personally committed.
And both the Geneva Convention and international human rights law outlaw detaining people without speedy hearings and procedures for appeal. "There is a general prohibition against arbitrary incarceration," says John Quigley, an international law professor at Ohio State University. "And if they're holding somebody, they have some obligation to ascertain that there is a need to hold that person."
Sometimes even fulfilling that obligation isn't enough. On Jan. 10, American troops burst into the Abdul-Razaq family home near Baquba and handcuffed Wadhah Abdul-Razaq's brother Harith and two cousins. According to a US military letter, an informant had accused them of being in a terror cell. On March 18, a soldier drove back and delivered an apology - and the letter.