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U.S. Army detained suspects' daughters, wives as leverage
Knight Ridder Newspapers
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The U.S. Army has been detaining Iraqi women to help track down husbands or fathers who are suspected terrorists, according to documents released Friday and an interview with a female detainee who was released Thursday after four months in prison.
A series of e-mails written by U.S. soldiers and an internal Army memo, all released Friday in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union, describe two cases of women who were imprisoned because American officials wanted information about their husbands.
The Iraqi woman said Friday that she and eight other female detainees in her cell had talked often among themselves. She discovered that all were being held because U.S. officials had suspected their male relatives of having ties to terrorism. In some cases, men in their families were killed during U.S. raids, the woman alleged.
The woman, whose voice trembled as she told her story, said she did not want to be named because she feared that she or a member of her family would be arrested.
U.S. officials declined to discuss specific cases, including whether the women were held solely because U.S. forces suspected that male relatives were terrorists. But Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, an Army spokesman in Baghdad, said Friday that the U.S. military held only people who were considered threats.
"We recognize insurgents don't work alone. They work in groups. Questioning certainly focuses on who they are associated with," Johnson said. "If we believe they have information or an association with terrorist activity, we would make a determination about exactly what that role may be."
The woman said she was visiting a relative in southwest Baghdad four months ago when multinational forces raided the home. Her relative's husband was killed, she said, and she and her husband were detained.
She said she was held with eight other women in a small room at Baghdad International Airport.
"We were talking about the charges against each of us," she said. "It turned out to be all the same. We were taken because they suspected our husbands or fathers of being terrorists."
She said she was cut off from her family during her capture and that she didn't see or hear from her husband until he, too, was released Thursday.
"I was treated in a good way, no torture," she said.
The U.S. detention of female prisoners is a sensitive issue for the Iraqi populace, which considers the mistreatment of a woman a dishonor to her family. Iraqis find it particularly offensive that foreign male officers are holding female prisoners, as many Iraqis fear that U.S. soldiers will treat them disrespectfully.
Several terrorist groups that are holding hostages — inducing the one that claims responsibility for kidnapping U.S. journalist Jill Carroll — have demanded the release of female prisoners.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said the decision to release five women Thursday wasn't related to Carroll's kidnapping but was the result of a routine review of detainee cases.
U.S. officials said that after the release of the five, four of the 14,000 prisoners they were holding were female. The Iraqi Justice Ministry said Friday that six women remain in custody.
In a memo written in June 2004 and released Friday, an officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, whose name was redacted, described the arrest of a 28-year-old woman from Tamiya, northwest of Baghdad. She had three children, including one who was nursing.
U.S. forces raided her in-laws' home, calling her husband the "primary target." Before the raid, soldiers had decided that if the woman were at the in-laws' home, they would detain her "in order to leverage the primary target's surrender," the memo's author wrote.
"During my initial screening of the occupants at the target house, I determined that the wife could provide no actionable intelligence leading to the arrest of her husband," the author of the memo wrote. "Despite my protest, the raid team leader detained her anyway."
The woman was released two days later, the memo said.
In the 2004 e-mail exchange, what appear to be U.S. soldiers based in northern Iraq discuss the detention of Kurdish female prisoners. The names were redacted.
In an e-mail dated June 17, 2004, a U.S. soldier wrote: "What are you guys doing to try to get the husband — have you tacked a note on the door and challenged him to come get his wife?"
A soldier wrote two days later that he was getting more information from "these gals" that could "result in getting husband."
The e-mails and the memo were among hundreds of documents that the Pentagon released under a federal court order to meet an ACLU request for information on detention practices.
Busho Ibrahim, the administrative deputy in the Iraqi Justice Ministry, said the five women who were released Thursday and the ones who were still in custody were detained on suspicion of having ties to terrorism.
Johnson said the U.S. military recognized the Arab sensitivity to women and tried to adjudicate their cases faster.
Detainees can bring allegations of abuse or wrongdoing to Iraqi and multinational forces during questioning and "an appropriate investigation would be opened," he said.
He said both suspected insurgents and coalition forces have been killed during raids.
Hostage video: Two Germans taken hostage in northern Iraq appeared in a videotape aired by Al-Jazeera. Their voices were inaudible, but Al-Jazeera said the video, which had a date stamp of Jan. 24, the day of their abduction, showed the two men urging Berlin to help secure their release. The tape was the first sign of Thomas Nitzschke and Rene Braeunlich since the engineers were seized in Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, by gunmen wearing military uniforms.
Basra threat: The governor of the southern city of Basra threatened to stop dealing with British forces unless they release five Iraqi men detained Tuesday. The five include policemen suspected of links to local killings and kidnappings blamed on Shiite militias. Gov. Mohammed al-Waeli called for a mass demonstration Sunday outside the British consulate.
Baghdad clashes: Iraqi forces clashed with insurgents Friday near the notorious airport road and other districts of western Baghdad, arresting nearly 60 people. The fiercest clashes occurred in the Jihad district along the main road to Baghdad International Airport — scene of numerous bombings and ambushes.
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters is included in this report.
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