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[casi] article: rough justice

Rough Justice
Shed no tears for Saddam’s captured cronies. But American generals
know that hardball in Iraq could backfire

By Rod Nordland

      Aug. 18 issue —  The family of Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy
prime minister who surrendered early to Coalition forces, is
outraged. Once the international face of Saddam’s regime, Aziz is now
confined in a stifling room with just a bed at Camp Cropper, the
American prison at Baghdad airport.

HIS RELATIVES CAN’T visit him, and they have no idea when or if he’ll
be released. At least he can write: “I am okay and getting good
medical care, but I miss you all and the grandchildren. Hugs and
kisses,” he penned in a letter to his wife, Violet, on July 15. The
one-page letter, shown to NEWSWEEK, included a P.S.: “Please send me
magazines and newspapers, cigarettes (a lot, preferably Marlboros),
underwear and a disdash [the lightweight gown for men].” Violet Aziz
says she sent what he requested, “but when I wanted to send more,
they said, ‘Only once a month.’ Where are the human rights that the
U.S. is always talking about?” Aziz’s sister Amal adds: “It’s a shame
how he is being treated.”
        Few Americans will get teary for Tariq Aziz, faithful servant
to the Butcher of Baghdad. But consider the case of Rafet Kamal, a
27-year-old shop clerk who went out for cigarettes one night two
weeks ago and never returned home. Kamal’s father, named Kamal Sayit,
an unemployed laborer with no connections and no English, went from
prison to police station to hospital looking for him. At Camp
Cropper, he was simply turned away at gunpoint. Finally, after 10
days of fruitless searching, Sayit visited Baghdad’s morgue last
Tuesday. He suspected the worst by this point, if only because his
son had taken a pistol out with him. It was for personal protection,
Sayit says, but he knew Coalition troops forbade it. Attendants
ushered the father to one of five refrigerated rooms, where bodies
lay piled two or three deep, nearly all of them young men with
gunshot wounds. There he found his son lying on top, his body riddled
with bullets. Sayit beat his own head with both fists and
  cried, “I just want to know: was he killed by American soldiers?”
        He will never know for certain, because no one will ever
investigate. That’s partly because there is no codified system of
justice in occupied Iraq. As many as 8,000 people have disappeared
since Saddam’s regime collapsed, and many relatives are searching for
answers about their fate. More than 5,000 are in U.S. custody; others
may be among those killed by fellow Iraqis, and in some cases by
American troops. Those who have been detained are nearly —always held
incommunicado, without access to lawyers or even the right to contact
their families. In most cases their loved ones can’t find out where
they are. With Iraqi prisons looted and destroyed, captives are
jailed in barbed-wire compounds, converted warehouses and vast tent
camps. Conditions are primitive; at their worst they amount to what
Amnesty International describes as “cruel, inhuman or degrading
        But the lack of a proper justice system is not just a
human-rights issue. It also raises questions about whether the U.S.
military, in its campaign to stamp out the Iraqi resistance, is
creating new enemies. Last week, after a surge of criticism, the U.S.
commander in Iraq promised reforms. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said he
was “working pretty hard to ensure that with our tactics, techniques
and procedures ... we are not alienating the Iraqi people.” He also
announced that by this week lists of all detainees would be posted at
Civil Military Affairs offices throughout Iraq, as well as at police
stations and courthouses.
        How many detainees are there? Previously the Coalition
Provisional Authority had estimated the prisoner population at
between 3,000 and 4,000. Last week Gen. Janis Karpinski, the Army’s
top Military Police commander, said the total now tops 5,000, only
about 500 of them considered POWs. The International Committee of the
Red Cross (ICRC), which moved a staff of 20 officials from Geneva to
Baghdad after the city fell to American forces, has 8,000
missing-person cases in its files. That may include people who have
died, or whose disappearances are not connected with Coalition

Some Iraqis know their relatives have been picked up by Coalition
forces but can’t locate them. One is Amal Abdullah Mosul, whose
husband was arrested two weeks ago as he drove past a military
compound in downtown Baghdad. Soldiers accused him of having driven
by too often—she says he has three sisters in different houses in
that neighborhood—and searched his car. They discovered his ID card,
which showed he was a retired brigadier general. “They said, ‘You’re
a terrorist,’ and handcuffed him.” What his ID card didn’t show was
that he had been imprisoned for six months by the previous regime for
possessing an illegal satellite dish. “We were so happy the Americans
saved us from Saddam,” says Mosul, “but now I’m quite bitter.” During
Saddam’s time, Mosul says, “at least [my husband] was arrested for a
reason, and I knew where he was.” She has been making the rounds of
hospitals, prisons and morgues. “Now my 7-year-old son keeps saying,
‘Show me the soldier who arrested my fath
 er; I want to kill him’.”
        Uncle Sam is no Saddam. But Iraqis expect Americans to meet a
much higher standard. Entesar Janabi was thankful that she finally
located her 17-year-old son, Ahmed, at Camp Cropper, thanks to a
civil-affairs officer who found him in a database. But that was after
weeks of being rebuffed. Ahmed had been picked up during a car search
because someone else in the vehicle had a hidden weapon. “They’re
just so disorganized. Nobody can see anybody, nobody is responsible,
they keep telling you ‘This is not my responsibility’.” At one police
station, she met an American sergeant who had his feet up on the
desk. “All he would say was, ‘I can’t help you, lady’.” As Janabi
recounted this—standing in an ICRC office, where 200 people a day
file missing-person reports—another Iraqi chimed in: “You’re lucky
that Americans took your son. In the days of Saddam Hussein, he would
have been gone forever.” “Yes,” Janabi replied, “but we expect the
Americans to be better than that.”
        Many prisoners who are released complain about bad conditions
in captivity. A month after their release, three brothers held for a
time at Camp Cropper still bore the marks of the plastic flexicuffs
commonly put on prisoners. A frequent punishment is to make men kneel
outside in the sun, where afternoon temperatures exceed 125 degrees
Fahrenheit. Those under interrogation are subject to sleep
deprivation, loud music and other methods the military believes stop
short of torture. Authorities even held a suspect’s wife and children
as hostages until he turned himself in, which he did. And a military
investigation is underway against four American guards for abusive
treatment of their captives.
        ICRC officials said U.S. authorities were working to improve
conditions, and were responsive to the group’s concerns about
treatment of civilian detainees under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Privately, though, one Red Cross delegate says, “What they’re doing
is completely illegal, and they know it.” Common criminals should be
separated from people considered military security risks, and all
should have the right to trials and basic safeguards. U.S. military
spokesman Col. Guy Shields acknowledges shortcomings, but says the
military is determined to resolve them. “In many cases, because of
the security environment, we do not allow visitors [including
families and lawyers],” he says, while also suggesting the system may
be liberalized as prisons get renovated. “Having said that, the
system that we have now is much better than the system of the
previous regime.” Or, as CPA head L. Paul Bremer III puts it, “no one
is getting his tongue cut out anymore.”
        American forces, however, have killed hundreds of Iraqis,
including many innocent bystanders. The military keeps no records of
civilian victims, and usually lets family members take the body away.
If no one claims it, soldiers take it to the morgue. Sometimes the
victims are shot when failing to heed a roadblock, or when they
happen into a fire fight. Last week a bomb under a Humvee exploded,
and troops fired wildly into the crowded shops nearby. There was no
return fire, but the shooting went on for hours and left at least one
Iraqi bystander dead. The week before, four Christians on their way
to church in Baghdad’s upper-class Mansour district were shot to
death as they happened upon the scene of a house raid; the military
says the incident is under investigation. With at least a dozen
hit-and-run attacks a day taking place against American troops, such
mishaps are commonplace. Adding to the body count, troops are now
allowed to shoot looters and curfew violators if
  they don’t heed orders.
        At Baghdad’s morgue, the results are plain to see. Two or
three times a day now, according to clerk Muhammed Hussein, the
morgue receives corpses of people killed by the Coalition; they
arrive in the black body bags used by the U.S. Army. Pathologist
Hassan Faisal Lazim says more than 3,000 victims have arrived at the
facility, which serves only Baghdad, since Saddam’s regime fell. Most
are victims of Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence, and 95 percent have been
killed by gunshot. While only 15 to 20 percent of them have been shot
by the Coalition, according to Lazim’s estimates, that’s still a
significant death toll. General Sanchez said last week:
“Unfortunately, in some cases, when you’re in the middle of a fire
fight, there are innocent civilians that are hurt.”
        Last week pickup trucks pulled into the Baghdad morgue’s
driveway, one after another, with bodies of young men who had been
shot. Some came with wailing family members; in other cases corpses
had been collected from the street after curfew lifted at 6 a.m.
Policeman Satter Abdul Wahid arrived in his car, the rear window
busted out, with a man’s body in the trunk, the feet sticking out
over the side. The corpse had been found on the street, shot seven
times with heavy-caliber bullets; beyond that no one knew anything.
“Even if they didn’t do this, I blame the Coalition forces,” Wahid
said. “If they let the police operate independently, this wouldn’t
        By 10:30 that morning, Lazim had performed 22 autopsies, and
bodies were still arriving. All but one were gunshot victims. A
steady stream of Iraqis arrived, looking at the faces of the corpses
in the truck beds, on the autopsy tables inside and stacked in the
refrigerators. Most went away relieved, to search elsewhere, but
occasionally someone started wailing. No one could tell Kamal Sayit
who had killed his son, but his wounds seemed to be from a
small-caliber weapon such as a pistol—probably not military. It was
small consolation. He slumped to the tiled examining room floor and
wept into his hands.

With Colin Soloway in Tikrit, and Christopher Dickey and Scott
Johnson in Baghdad

        2003 Newsweek, Inc.


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