Sunday, May 18, 2008

So, Who's Really in Charge?

The US regularly holds detainees that were freed by Iraqi courts.

In the eyes of Iraqi justice, Yahya Ali Humadi is a free man.

To the U.S. military, he's another of the detainees in yellow jumpsuits held at the sprawling Camp Bucca in southern Iraq.

Humadi — ordered released nine months ago after an Iraqi judge dropped all charges — now spends his days in a legal limbo. It's one that has confronted and confounded thousands of other Iraqis since 2003 who have been freed by their nation's courts but remained in U.S. custody.

"I don't know why the U.S. army brought him to an Iraqi court, if they intend to keep him for an unlimited time," said Humadi's lawyer, Samiya al-Baghdadi.

The American military, however, sees no contradiction.

Commanders say the current international mandate in Iraq, as well as general codes of war, allow them to hold any prisoner until the detainee is no longer considered a threat to U.S. forces. Local law and court rulings do not apply, they add.

The lack of a legal framework--an operative Status of Forces Agreement or SOFA that has been ratified and approved by Congress and not secretly negotiated between the Bush Administration and al-Maliki's government--would fundamentally alter what rules the US would have to abide by. Without that framework, anything goes:
These dual realities — freedom granted by Iraqi courts but continued detention by the Americans — have been faced by about 3,000 Iraqis since 2003 and stand as a sharp contrast between U.S. policies on the battlefield and Washington's appeals for Iraqis to build credible civic institutions.

The differences could grow even more pronounced as Iraqi authorities move ahead with an amnesty program that was strongly supported by the White House as a step to reconcile Iraq's rival factions.

The amnesty rulings could offer an early exit for many of the 27,000 prisoners in Iraqi hands. They also could wipe the slate for hundreds of the roughly 22,000 detainees held by the U.S. military — which then must decide whether to abide by the decisions or ignore a formula that Washington applauded.

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