Arrested 'by mistake'

By Geraldine Sealey

Published May 10, 2004 6:49PM (EDT)

The Red Cross report on allegations of abuse at U.S. military prisons in Iraq suggests there was a system at work -- a pattern of conduct geared toward extracting "intelligence" from certain detainees, presumably about potential terrorist activity, the growing anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq or other security issues. According to the report, the bulk of the alleged illegal prisoner abuses took place during the "interrogation" stage.

But to read the Red Cross report -- all 24 pages of which are available on the Wall Street Journal Web site (.pdf file) -- you have to wonder just how many of those dragged into the Abu Ghraib hellhole, or other U.S. military prisons in Iraq, really had any intelligence of any value to share. The description of how most detainees were arrested suggests that coalition forces were sweeping through homes and hauling every adult male they could find to the prison. According to the Red Cross, some coalition military intelligence officers told the organization "that in their estimate between 70 and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake," the report says.

Here's the Red Cross report excerpt on the arrest process: "Arrests as described in these allegations tended to follow a pattern. Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property. They arrested suspects, tying their hands in the back with flexi-cuffs, hooding them and taking them away. Sometime they arrested all adult males present in a house including elderly, handicapped or sick people. Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles. Individuals were often led away in whatever they happened to be wearing at the time of arrest -- sometime in pyjamas or underwear -- and were denied the opportunity to gather a few essential belongings, such as clothing, hygiene items, medicine or eyeglasses."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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