Saturday, March 05, 2005

THE NEW YORK TIMES had an article a couple of days ago about the burgeoning prison industry in Iraq. There are 3 major prisons in Iraq right now, and they are all crammed to overflowing with detainees. Almost 9,000 Iraqis are in U.S.-administered prisons; 1,000 more than there were in January. At Abu Ghraib, where the ceiling is supposed to be 2,500, there are over 3,000 detainees. And Camp Bucca, near Basra, has at least 5,640.

In the weeks before the Jan. 30 elections, the U.S. military conducted numerous sweeps of the male Iraqi population to head off any disruption of the voting. Those, and mass arrests during the seiges of towns and cities across the Sunni Triangle (like Fallujah) and in the region south of Baghdad, are what's behind the surge in the prison population.

And of course many of them are guilty of nothing except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's why they're called sweeps, right? Although a tiny number of detainees are released soon after their arrest, the vast majority have to wait between 3 and 6 months for their cases to go before a review board. Aside from the fact that it's a gross miscarriage of justice for detainees to be behind bars for 6 months when they are very likely innocent, it's also a recipe for disaster. What better way to grow a violent insurrectionary prison population than to have thousands of detainees, many of them innocent, swept up and jammed in together like sardines in hastily built prisons with far too few professional interrogators to process or control that many people? That's what happened in Abu Ghraib, and it's why the military turned to untrained military police to interrogate prisoners. We all know how that turned out.

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