Do US, Iraqi Officials Undercount Detainees?

August 18th, 2007 - by admin

Christina Davidson / Iraq Slogger – 2007-08-18 22:53:00

Confusion Over the Official Number Held Raises Suspicion

(August 15, 2007) — An Iraqi official who heads the government committee tasked with inspecting detention facilities announced shocking figures this weekend, estimating the number of detainees held in US and Iraqi-run prisons at 67,000. The admission sparked the Iraqi government to release official numbers on Monday more in line with previous estimates.

According to Monday’s announcement, US and Iraqi prisons house a total of 42,000 detainees, precisely distributed between the two commands. “21,000 detainees are being held so far in the Multi-National forces’ detention centres and there are 21,000 others in Iraqi interior, justice and defense ministries’ jails,” Brigadier-General Abdul Karim Khalaf told the independent news agency Voices of Iraq (VOI).

However, Jasim Bahadeli, who leads an Iraqi government committee that inspects detention facilities, said this weekend that 36,000 detainees were held at US-run facilities, and 31,000 at Iraqi ones.

Bahadeli has been outspoken on the appalling conditions detainees are forced to endure, often for months without charge, but his criticisms are often dismissed as the unfortunate by-product of a justice system whose development is lagging.

If Bahadeli’s estimate of detainees is accurate, the implication that Iraq and US forces could be holding 20,000 more prisoners than they admit is damning. While his numbers may well be exaggerated, the figure the Iraqi government announced Monday is almost certainly underestimated.

Back in late March, the UN estimated the number of detainees held in Iraqi-run prisons was just under 20,000, which represented an influx of 3,500 since late January.

If Khalaf is correct in his current assessment, that would mean Iraq only increased its prison population by an additional 1,500 during the peak summer months of the surge. Considering that there have been no big prisoner releases or progress in processing the innocents swept up in operations, the officially announced figures do not seem credible.

Regarding US-run prisons, The Washington Post reported in mid-May that the US military said it had control over 19,500 detainees in its facilities, which represented an increase of about 3,000 since the beginning of the security plan in mid-February.

If those figures and the latest estimate are both correct, then the US has witnessed a significant decline in the number of suspects arrested during the past three months, as compared to the previous three-month period.

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