Military Detention of 1000s of Iraqi Men Decried
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 13, 2004
Christian Peacemaker Team Criticizes Military Detention of Thousands of Men in Iraq
Interview with Kara Speltz, member of the Christian Peacemaker Team, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Listen in RealAudio: http://www.btlonline.org/speltz031904.ram
Since 1984, faith-based Christian Peacemaker Teams have borne non-violent witness in wartorn countries around the world. The slogan of the group is "committed to reducing violence by getting in the way." Peacemaker Teams have had a presence in Iraq since before the U.S. invasion one year ago. They observe and report especially on the impact of war on civilians.
Kara Speltz, who lives in Oakland, Calif., went to Iraq with a Christian Peacemaker Team last year, and she returned there for a 10-day visit in late February and early March this year. Among other things, her group visited the Shi'ite shrine in Karbala which a week later was the site of a deadly bombing. On Ash Wednesday, they began a rotating 40-day Lenten fast and vigil for peace in Freedom Square in downtown Baghdad.
Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Kara Speltz, who talks about what she observed while in Iraq and the stories her team heard in the embattled Sunni Triangle from family members whose men were taken prisoner by U.S. soldiers.
Karen Speltz: The Americans acknowledge up to 12,000 held. Other people are saying it’s probably as high as 20,000. So it’s somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000 being held without seeing lawyers, no charges, no visits. And the detentions started, of course, almost immediately after the soldiers moved into the Baghdad area.
Between The Lines: So the conditions sound identical to the conditions under which people are being held in Guantanamo.
Karen Speltz: Exactly.
Between The Lines: And even though very little has changed for prisoners in Guantanamo, at least we hear about them, but we’ve heard almost nothing about this going on in Iraq. Talk about one of the families you visited that had this experience.
Karen Speltz: Well, we visited the town of Abu Sifa. That town was a little farming town of approximately 25 families. And the thing you have to understand, of course, in Iraq is that they are very extended families there; it’s not a mother, father, two kids. I rarely ran into that all the time I was in Iraq. So there are mothers and fathers and grandfathers and grandmothers and aunts and uncles. So, the families are often rather large. In the town were people like lawyers, teachers -- a lot of teachers -- lived in that little town. And one of the people who also lived in the town was a member of the Ba’ath Party, and that’s why they were raided. They’ve been raided some ten times since December. It was about the time Saddam had been picked up and evidently this man’s name was in something in his possession. So they went in this town in the middle of the night.
The Americans raid in the middle of the night, usually between midnight and 2 in the morning. And they kick down the doors, and they pull everybody out of the house, and the women, of course, are dressed in nightclothes, and so they’re not covered up or anything, and that’s really a huge cultural thing in Iraq. And they take everybody out of the house and then they put everybody over to one side. They took the men and boys -- anyone over about oh, 13, 14 -- put hoods on their heads; tied their hands behind their backs and made them lie on the ground. The women were all kind of corralled into an area. They went into each and every house and they took money, and possessions; gave no receipts; and took approximately 80 men, from the ages of about 14 to 80. And those men have not been seen or heard from. They have no idea where they’re being held. And that was in December.
Between The Lines: And this was reported to you by the families?
Karen Speltz: Directly from the families. There are only two men left in the village. Those two men happened to be away during the times of the raids. The Americans went back in several nights later and destroyed three houses, one of which was the house of the Ba’ath Party member.
Between The Lines: You spoke with a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. What did he say about the elections?
Karen Speltz: It’s hard to come up with one plan that everybody seems to have. There’s questions about how soon the Americans should leave. But everybody wants the elections. They say, "We need to decide what kind of government we’re going to have. This is our decision and we need people to allow us to vote." That was the most consistent thing I heard, from no matter who I was talking to, whether it was the Shiites or the Sunnis or the Communists or the Catholics. They all said the same thing: "We want the election."
Between The Lines: Did you talk to anyone who thought the Americans and British should leave immediately?
Karen Speltz: Yes, Occupation Watch people were the only people, actually, who said, "Americans out today." The woman we met with was definitely an Iraqi, and she was the one who said to us, “We want the Americans out today.”
Between The Lines: What about a role for the UN?
Karen Speltz: Some were very open to UN roles. A number of people said the UN should come in and take over. But mostly, they were just like, We want our elections. We want freedom; we haven’t had freedom in a really long time, and we want our freedom now, but not the kind of freedom that Americans offer.
Between The Lines: What were they referring to?
Karen Speltz: The issue of detainees is a big one, because everyone’s been affected by that to some degree. Everyone has some family member who’s been through a situation where there’s been a raid on their town and people just taken away and they can’t find them. So a lot of people are concerned, and of course one of the reasons we did the vigil on Ash Wednesday was to say that not only are Iraqis concerned, but those of us who are involved in the justice movement are concerned about the lives of the Iraqis who are being held.
Contact the Christian Peacemaker Team at (773) 277-0253 or visit their website at http://www.cpt.org
- "The Torture Files"
- "As U.S. Detains Iraqis, Families Plead for News"
Visit our Between The Lines Newswire regularly at http://www.btlonline.org to read other in-depth news stories that are under-reported or ignored in the corporate media.
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on over 35 radio stations. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending March 19, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.