Who's the boss?

Published July 1, 2004 6:10PM (EDT)

So we've heard a lot in the media about the "end of the U.S. occupation" of Iraq, even though 135,000 U.S. troops remain. A little disagreement between U.S. military police and Iraqi policemen yesterday, as described in the Guardian, highlights how murky the lines of power are between "sovereign" Iraq and the U.S. troops that remain. The point of contention, ironically enough: prisoner abuse.

"American military police yesterday raided a building belonging to the Iraqi ministry of the interior where prisoners were allegedly being physically abused by Iraqi interrogators. The raid appeared to be a violation of the country's new sovereignty, leading to angry scenes inside the ministry between Iraqi policemen and US soldiers."

"The military police, who had been told of abuse, seized an area known as the Guesthouse just outside the ministry's main building. They disarmed the Iraqi policemen and at one stage threatened to set free prisoners whose handcuffs they removed, according to Iraqi officials. The arrival of a second group of US military police and a more senior officer led to an argument between the two groups of military policemen over who had command authority for the raid."

"Iraqi ministry of interior officials admitted that around 150 prisoners taken during a raid four days before in the Betawain district of Baghdad had been physically abused during their arrest and subsequent questioning. The men were captured in the first big Iraqi-led anti-crime and anti-terrorism operation, which took place a few days before the transfer of power, with US military police in support and using US satellite images."

"Senior Iraqi officers described those captured as 'first class murderers, kidnappers and terrorists with links to al-Ansar' -- a militant group in the former Kurdish no-fly zone -- who had all admitted to 'at least 20 crimes while being questioned.' According to an al-Jazeera television crew, who had been filming the prisoners when the US military police conducted their raid, most of the detainees were blindfolded, with their hands cuffed behind their backs. One prisoner was so weak, from dehydration, that the US military policemen fitted an intravenous drip to rehydrate him."

"  One of the prisoners bared his back after his initial arrest to reveal open welts allegedly caused by baton and rubber hoses. A bodyguard for the head of criminal intelligence, Hussein Kamal, admitted that the beatings had taken place. Nashwan Ali - who said his nickname was Big Man - said: 'A US MP asked me this morning what police division I was in. I said I was in criminal intelligence. The American asked me why we had beaten the prisoners. I said we beat the prisoners because they are all bad people. But I told him we didn't strip them naked, photograph them or fuck them like you did.'"

By Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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