“The desire for freedom resides in every human heart.”
U.S. soldier kicking open a cupboard in a building to search for suspicious items while on a joint patrol with Iraqi National police in a suburb of Baghdad March 7, 2007. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)
For my "quote of the day" over at Today in Iraq this week, I used the words of none other than George W Bush from his September 2004 speech to the UN:
The desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls, or martial laws, or secret police. Over time, and across the Earth, freedom will find a way.
It seemed the perfect intro to a story from Basra about 11 detainees who switched clothes with their visiting relatives and walked out of jail – the account from the BBC of this "embarassing incident" ended with the information that these detainess had been held for two years without charge.
After 4 years of Bush's war, escape from "prison walls, martial laws and secret police" are more remote than ever for the people of Iraq. As Tim Lambon of The New Statesman reports from his embed position with the new US surge troops in Baghdad:
It's hard to describe the noise when a whole cabinet of crockery is emptied on to the floor. Even harder not to shout in indignation when the American soldier who intentionally tipped it forward, until the plates and dishes slid smashing to the floor, says without regret, "Whoops!" and crunches over the shards past the distraught owner. "Cordon and search" they call looking for Sunni insurgents and their arms and explosives. But at what cost to the battle for "hearts and minds"?
By the time we rolled into the middle section of the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, there wasn't a single shot being fired in our direction. Any insurgents were long gone. But the hapless residents were not. They watched, almost impassively, the random violence of the searching troops, too frightened to object. Some of the houses, whose Christian or Shia owners had fled, were empty.
Occupied or not, if no one quickly answered the demands to open up, gates, doors and windows were smashed down or blown open with shotguns. Inside, damage was done to anything breakable. Living-rooms became a jumble of furniture. Beds were overturned, cabinets thrown down, shelves emptied on to floors and beds: an orgy of destruction and arbitrary searching.
And while troops are kicking in the doors, they are also taking prisoners – in fact, perhaps the biggest surge in Iraq right now is the surge in the number of detainees being held. As Marsi Abugtaug of Azzaman reported yesterday :
The population of prisons in Iraq has soared in recent months with tens of thousands of Iraqis currently in U.S. custody without trial. U.S. troops and Iraqi government are investing heavily in the construction of prisons in the country with more than 100,000 Iraqis currently behind bars. A parliamentary investigation commission has found that U.S. troops alone now detain more than 61,000 Iraqis and the figure is expected to swell as the Americans press ahead with their military operations.
More than 50,000 Iraqis were reported to have been arrested in the past four weeks as part of the joint U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to subdue Baghdad. U.S. troops detain Iraqis merely on suspicion. Once detained, Iraqis may stay indefinitely as they are denied access to lawyers and Iraqi courts and government have no right to question U.S. troops' actions. Even Iraqi troops operations and activities now fall beyond the Iraqi judicial system as the country has been placed under emergency rule under which the courts have no power to question what the security forces do.
Many of the detainees are subjected to torture by military interrogators who use all means to extract confessions. The detainees are denied visits by family members or relatives and they usually have no means to get in touch with them until they are released. Many Iraqi families continue a hopeless search for relatives detained by U.S. troops. The search starts with hospital morgues and government-run prisons. U.S. prisons are off bounds. U.S. troops do not inform relatives of the Iraqis they capture.
This new "emergency rule" was announced on February 13th by al Maliki to coincide with the surge. According to Human Rights Watch :
The decree grants far-reaching powers to conduct searches and seizures without warrants; to arrest, detain and interrogate people; to monitor, search and confiscate "all mail parcels, letters, cables, and wire and wireless communication devices"; and to restrict all public gatherings, including "centers, clubs, organizations, unions, companies, institutions, and offices."
The vaguely worded decree provides few details on how the regulations will be implemented, and includes no time limits for most of its provisions. It provides no specific limitations on searches of private property or searches and confiscation of private correspondence.
The decree provides for broad use of the death penalty… for those found guilty of a wide array of offenses, including rape, theft, murder, abduction and destruction of private and public property, as well as the commission, participation or encouragement of crimes cited in the decree. The absence of due-process protections under the decree greatly increases cause for concern.
As Human Rights Watch Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, notes: "The security situation in Baghdad is dire, but giving the military free rein to violate the basic rights of Iraqis is not the answer. International law strictly limits the restrictions a government can place on fundamental rights during a public emergency. Iraq's new martial law provisions open the door to easy abuse. "
Akram Abdulrazzaq of Azzaman is more direct:
The new security plan for Baghdad is just an attempt to contain Iraqis fury and anger over their failures. It will certainly end up in a fiasco, like the plans preceding it. Instead of it being "a decisive attack on terror in the capital", as they claim, the plan will add more fuel to the raging fire of violence.