Who are the now world-famous inmates seen in the notorious Abu Ghraib photographs? While some blameless Iraqis may have become entangled in the abuses there, the detainees in Cellblocks 1-A and 1-B–where these violations occurred–include bombers and murderers. The Associated Press may have been a tad sentimental May 7 when it called them “helpless prisoners.”
These captives “are not held randomly. They are not held as hostages,” says Captain Mark Doggett of the Australian Army. “These people are held because there is evidence that they are an imperative threat to the security of not just the Coalition, but the Iraqi people.”
Doggett, a Coalition Forces press officer, spoke by phone Friday afternoon from Baghdad’s Coalition Press Information Center. He stressed that high-value inmates in the American-run facility are not routine lawbreakers. Iraqi shoplifters and bicycle thieves are handled elsewhere.
“Common criminals are put through the Iraqi criminal system,” Doggett says. “Common criminals, as opposed to those who are involved in acts against the Coalition, go through the Iraqi prison system and Iraqi court system which are quite separate from the Coalition detention operation.”
Abu Ghraib’s prisoners are lethal. While Doggett says he is “not at liberty” to name individuals behind bars nor detail why they are there, he speaks generally about why these people wound up in Cellblocks 1-A and 1-B. “That’s where those images were taken,” he explains, referring to the ubiquitous pictures of American military guards and their Iraqi captives.
“The most common things people are being detained for include attacking Coalition forces or the Iraqi people, likewise for financing attacks on forces or the Iraqi people,” Doggett says. “They could be involved in the planning of attacks. They could be involved in the manufacture of Improvised Explosive Devices. That could mean everything from procuring the necessary materials for explosive devices, through to actually manufacturing the devices, to planting them.”
Asked about the alleged offenses of the worst suspects in Cellblocks 1-A and 1-B, Doggett says, “We wouldn’t be able to give specifics, but we can tell you that we have people in custody who have been involved in killing Americans and others from the Coalition forces. I really cannot think of a worse crime than that: Murder.”
Captain Doggett challenges the notion that average Iraqis stumbled into Abu Ghraib. “The perception that innocent Iraqis are being rounded up in large numbers is simply false,” he says. “The Coalition always conducts targeted raids based on sound intelligence.”
A confidential report on Abu Ghraib by the International Committee of the Red Cross somewhat disputes this claim. As excerpted in the May 7 Wall Street Journal, the ICRC believes that “between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.” Still, most of them appear to have been treated humanely, and many soon were released. At Abu Ghraib in particular, the Red Cross’s findings seem to confirm Doggett’s description of the venue. As the Geneva-based humanitarian group states, “ill-treatment during interrogation was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have ‘intelligence’ value.”
Abu Ghraib is not just populated by Iraqis. “Out of the 7,800 or so inmates we have, I can confirm that we have an indeterminate number of foreign fighters in captivity,” says U.S. Army Captain Patrick Swan, a Coalition press officer in Baghdad.
Despite the global media inferno that has raged since CBS’s 60 Minutes II first broadcast the Abu Ghraib photos on April 28, the global media have been remarkably incurious about the identities of the prisoners in those pictures and their reasons for incarceration. Asked if he had spoken with other journalists along these lines, Captain Mark Doggett replies, “You are the sole person who has asked these questions.”