U.S. using some Iraqis as bargaining
Iraqi woman says U.S. imprisoned her
husband - and said he'd go free when her father surrenders
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. troops wanted Jeanan Moayad's father. When they
couldn't find him, they took her husband in his place.
Dhafir Ibrahim has been in U.S. custody for nearly four months. Moayad
insists he is being held as a bargaining chip, and military officials have
told her he will be released when her father surrenders. Her father is a
scientist and former Baath party member who fled to Jordan soon after the
fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"My husband is a hostage," said Moayad, 35, an architect who carries a small
portrait of Ibrahim in her purse. "He didn't commit any crime."
In a little-noticed development amid Iraq's prison abuse scandal, the U.S.
military is holding dozens of Iraqis as bargaining chips to put pressure on
their wanted relatives to surrender, according to human rights groups. These
detainees are not accused of any crimes, and experts say their detention
violates the Geneva Conventions and other international laws. The practice
also risks associating the United States with the tactics of countries it
has long criticized for arbitrary arrests.
"It's clearly an abuse of the powers of arrest, to arrest one person and say
that you're going to hold him until he gives information about somebody
else, especially a close relative," said John Quigley, an international law
professor at Ohio State University. "Arrests are supposed to be based on
suspicion that the person has committed some offense."
U.S. officials deny that there is a systematic practice of detaining
relatives to pressure Iraqi fugitives into surrendering. "The coalition does
not take hostages," said a senior military official who asked not to be
named. "Relatives who might have information about wanted persons are
sometimes detained for questioning, and then they are released. There is no
policy of holding people as bargaining chips."
But Iraqi human rights groups say they have documented dozens of cases
similar to Moayad's, in which family members who are not accused of any
crimes have been detained for weeks or even months and told that they would
be released only when a wanted relative surrenders to U.S. forces.
"We have many cases of Americans going to a house looking for someone, and
when they can't find him, they take another family member in his place,"
said Bassem al-Rubaie, director of the Council of Legal Defense Care, a
group of Iraqi lawyers that has been campaigning for prisoner rights. "This
has been going on since the early days of the American occupation."
Arrested 'by mistake'
In a recent report, the International Committee of the Red Cross quoted
military intelligence officers as saying that between "70 and 90 percent" of
the nearly 8,000 Iraqis detained by occupation forces had been arrested "by
mistake." In some cases, the report found, U.S. troops held people for
several months after they had been cleared of wrongdoing.
Human rights groups first criticized the United States for detaining the
relatives of wanted Iraqis in November, when U.S. forces arrested the wife
and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Hussein's longtime deputies.
After Hussein was captured last year, al-Douri became the most wanted man in
Iraq, and Washington put a $10 million bounty on his head.
Al-Douri's wife and daughter are still in U.S. custody, although rights
monitors say they have not been charged with any crime.
"Taking hostages is a grave breach of the Geneva
Conventions - in other words, a war crime," Manhattan-based Human
Rights Watch wrote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in January.
The senior U.S. military official declined to discuss the detention of
al-Douri's relatives, saying it is a "special case with very unusual
circumstances." In the past, U.S. officials had likened the detentions to
those of a material witness who is held for questioning.
A form of 'moral coercion'
But rights monitors say there is no basis under international law for
holding family members as material witnesses. "That explanation is dubious
at best," said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International USA.
Detaining a fugitive's relatives is a form of "moral coercion" forbidden
under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, according to Quigley. The
convention, which guarantees the rights of civilians under military
occupation, also prohibits punishing someone for an offense that he has not
In the 1970s and '80s, Washington frequently criticized the former Soviet
Union and Eastern Bloc countries for making arbitrary arrests and for using
relatives to exert pressure on fugitives and political prisoners. In its
latest report on human rights conditions around the world, the State
Department singled out Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Syria for using such
By adopting similar methods in Iraq, experts say, Washington risks losing a
moral high ground. "It makes it difficult for the U.S. to criticize other
countries," Quigley said, "when it undertakes detentions of this sort that
so clearly exceed what is permitted by law."
One family's nightmare
International law leaves little recourse for civilians under occupation to
challenge wrongful detentions, something Moayad has become painfully aware
Her plight began on Jan. 30 at 2:30 a.m., when two U.S. Humvees pulled up to
the door of her family's house as an Apache helicopter circled overhead. The
soldiers asked for her father, Abdullah, 66, an American-educated geologist.
Moayad insists that she does not know what U.S. forces wanted from her
Moayad told the soldiers that her father had gone to neighboring Jordan for
prostate cancer surgery, and she showed them his medical records. They
arrested the only other man in the house: Moayad's husband.
"My husband told them several times, 'I'm not a troublemaker, I just want to
live in peace with my family,'" said Moayad, who was born in Austin, Texas,
where her father was working. She lived in the United States until she was 5
Moayad has been married to Ibrahim, 45, for eight years. They have three
children, ages 2 to 7. Like many Iraqis, they live with their extended
On Feb. 17, Moayad said, a group of soldiers delivered a handwritten letter
from Ibrahim. It said he was being transferred from a U.S. base in Baghdad
to Abu Ghraib prison "until the arrival of my father-in-law."
"Please tell him that I will be released when he arrives here, since I am
not the wanted person..." Ibrahim wrote. "Please urge my father-in-law to
surrender himself of his own free will. That will make things much easier
for him. They will not mistreat someone who surrenders of his own free will.
They only want to ask him some questions."
Since getting the letter, Moayad has made the 40-mile roundtrip journey from
Baghdad to Abu Ghraib 18 times. On most visits, she has stood outside the
gates with others waiting in vain for news about their relatives. One
soldier who felt sorry for her looked up Ibrahim's name in the computer
system and told her he was marked as a detainee with "intel value."
Reminders of Hussein
Moayad, whose patchwork English is the legacy of her Texas childhood,
doesn't know what "intelligence value" means and how it might affect her
husband. But the Red Cross report documented a pattern of abuses - including
humiliation, hooding and threats of execution - against Iraqi prisoners
deemed to have an intelligence value.
"The American soldiers kept on telling me, 'Bring your father, and you will
get your husband back,'" said Moayad, her soft voice trailing off. "How can
they say that he's not a hostage?"
On May 15, her 18th visit to Abu Ghraib, Moayad finally got to see her
husband. Ibrahim told her he was being well treated, but he said that
military officials had forced him to write the letter pleading for his
father-in-law to surrender.
The tactic, Moayad said, reminded her of Hussein's regime. "The Americans
promised us that they would bring democracy and freedom. They talked about
the prisoners in Saddam's time, and we expected them to do something
better," she said. "But now they're doing the same thing, or even worse."
source: Newsday - May 26, 2004