Global Policy Forum

PART I: Detention Has a Wide, Destructive Impact in Iraq:


By Nick Mottern and Bill Rau

October 10, 2008

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US military reports it has captured about 200,000 Iraqis, with some 96,000 of these being held at one time or another in US prisons in Iraq. This information, which we believe is the first such documentation offered by the US, was provided to Consumers for Peace by a spokesperson for Task Force 134, the command responsible for US prisons in Iraq, in the course of a three-month exchange of questions and answers about the US holding of Iraqi citizens. TF-134 provides the following on "the numbers (of Iraqis) that have actually processed to the point of being issued an Internment Serial Number. The 2008 number is an approximate, as we still have a few months left of the calendar year."

2003 - 15,685
2004 - 11,197
2005 - 16,570
2006 - 14,570
2007 - 19,151
2008 - 7,800

"This equals approximately 96,000," the TF-134 spokesman said. "With only about 50 percent of those captured making their way into actual detention, you wouldn't be wrong by saying that about 200,000 (have been detained by the US since the invasion). Because some people are released at the point of capture, there's a small percentage that don't make it into the counts." The statistics illustrate that "detention" or "internment," terms commonly used by officials to describe imprisonment, has been an essential and continuing element of the US occupation, rising with the US military "surge" in 2007. For reasons to be discussed below, these figures must be regarded as low. However, even if they are accepted as accurate, other information from TF-134 suggests further that the constant process of US capture, arrest and imprisonment has, since the 2003 invasion, touched the lives of at least two million Iraqis, nearly 10 percent of the population, either because they have been captured or held in detention centers or because they have had an immediate family member captured or imprisoned.

This estimate is based on a TF-134 survey of about 1,000 detainees, which will be discussed in greater detail in Part II of this series. It shows the probability that many, many Iraqis who have been or are being held by the US have not only wives and children at home but also one or more parents, sisters and brothers living in their households. Based on the survey, we judge that each Iraqi who has been held by US forces may have at least 10 others in their family with whom they have significant, daily contact and mutually dependent relationships. (The full survey results appear at The above estimates do not take into account the numbers of Iraqis captured, arrested or held by the Iraqi government within its prisons. While the US almost certainly has statistics on the Iraqi prison system, TF-134 said: "We do not track Iraqi detention systems." In August 2008, at the suggestion of a press officer for the Multi-National Force - Iraq, Consumers for Peace submitted questions on the Iraqi system, among other questions, to the office of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. (See Truthout, August 8, 2008.) To date there has been no response.

Twenty-Five a Day

The detention system operated by the US is a process through which Iraqis are captured and questioned on a daily basis and then either set free or put into prison. The length of incarceration depends, according to TF-134, on how long a person is viewed as presenting a threat of "violent acts against Iraqi citizens or the government of Iraq or its forces." As noted above, TF-134 says that the number of those entering detention is about half those who are being arrested in that "over 50 percent of captured persons are released in the first 21 days" after being captured. "Most detainees were captured as the result of an Iraqi-generated warrant for suspicion of some act that would classify them as a threat," the TF-134 spokesperson said. "Unfortunately, often there are false reports that cause a person to be captured unnecessarily. When the capturing coalition security force determines that the person is not a threat, he is released. This determination is sometimes made at the point of capture, and the person is never taken anywhere. Most common is that, during the initial interviews, the investigators come to the realization that the person should not have been captured."

It appears that Iraqis may also be being held for a form of "reeducation," which will be discussed in Part III of this series. In July, TF-134 reported that 30 Iraqis were entering detention daily and 50 were being released. At the time of this writing, an estimated 25 Iraqis are being incarcerated every day in the US prison system, according to TF-134, and 75 Iraqis a day are being released from prison. This trend has resulted in a decrease in the US prison population from 21,000 in July to about 17,700 in October, according to TF-134. The detainees are held at two facilities - Camp Cropper, which currently houses about 1,700 prisoners, according to TF-134, and Camp Bucca, holding about 15,900. Of those currently held in the US system, about 10 are women and 71 are juveniles. [1] Chart 1, provided by TF-134, reports on the trend in daily incarceration and release rates since April 2007 and indicates that these rates can change dramatically, apparently based on levels of political and military activity. Daily arrests and detentions accelerate during major military operations. In May 2008, for example, over 1,300 people were captured in the space of 10 days during a joint US-Iraq offensive in Mosul, according to Global Research.

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"The reason for virtually any change (in intake and release rates) here in Iraq is because this is a country emerging from a period of war," the TF-134 spokesperson said. "Most things here are very fluid." TF-134's Chart 2 gives the numbers of Iraqis held in US prisons since December 2006 and also shows the prisoner increase due to the "surge."

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While thousands of Iraqis have been released after relatively short periods, thousands more have been held for years. TF-134 reported that the average prison stay is 330 days. In the case of those prisoners who are considered hard-core resistance fighters, now numbering about 4,000 in US control, according to TF-134, the prison term appears to be indefinite. It is not clear what will happen to this group as the US continues to empty its prisons. The disposition of these prisons, the TF-134 spokesperson said, "is part of security negotiations that are currently ongoing."

The Real Numbers

While the information provided by TF-134 is of value in understanding the impact of the US-run detention system, it is likely that the detention figures are low. Early in the occupation, Iraqis were captured on a wholesale basis with little accounting. For example, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, former commander of Coalition forces in Iraq, reports in his book, "Wiser in Battle": "During our early offensive operations, we had swept in large numbers of detainees … Our early process for identifying and keeping track of prisoners also had to be done on the fly and was as primitive as you can imagine. We had no computers, so we used written ledgers and makeshift 'capture tags,' which were nothing more than pieces of paper pinned on the detainees by our front-line units." In June 2008, the US Army solicited bids for an operator of a warehouse at Camp Cropper, giving this poignant description of the task to be accomplished: a task that speaks not only to the lack of accountability for detainees but the human consequences of detention. The bid says: "It (the warehouse) stores the property of approximately 60,000 detainees, of which their status is unknown. Some of the property belongs to detainees that are still being held in theater, while some of the property is of released, deceased, unknown, or escaped detainees. The contracted personnel will identify the status of each detainee to determine the disposition of the property." [1] A TF-134 spokesperson said: "We currently have a confirmed plan in place to release 35 to their families with guarantees that they will no longer participate in the activities that resulted in their detention. The remaining 36 are scheduled to be transferred to the Iraqi juvenile detention facility in Baghdad to await trials for their violation of Iraqi criminal laws. We expect to no longer have juvenile detainees by the end of this year."

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Torture and Prison Abuse in Iraq


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