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Coalition Employs Anti-insurgent Tactics at Detention Facilities

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28, 2008 – U.S. officials decided last year that detainees held in coalition-run facilities in Iraq needed opportunities to voice their concerns and broaden their minds, rather than to just mark time, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said today.

“The way detention operations used to be conducted here in the country were a strategic risk,” Army Brig. Gen. Michael R. Nevin, commander of 177th Military Police Brigade, said in a conference call with military analysts.

“Back about in last March and April, there were a lot of violent actions, riots, detainee-on-detainee violence and detainee-on-guard violence going on in the facilities,” Nevin recalled. “Things were boiling over.”

At that time, he noted, about 14,000 detainees were housed at several coalition-managed facilities in Iraq under United Nations authority.

When Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone took command of Task Force 134 Detention Operations in Iraq in May, the two-star general immediately recognized there was a problem with the way the facilities were being run, Nevin said.

Stone "brought in a whole new way of doing business,” Nevin said. The Marine general, Nevin explained, viewed detention operations “as just another environment to conduct counterinsurgency” operations.

Voluntary literacy training and other education programs were quickly launched to engage the detainees, Nevin said. A survey taken last year, he noted, found that more than 70 percent of people held in coalition-run detention facilities in Iraq couldn’t read or write. Other new programs included religious discussion groups and vocational training, he added.

A new family-visitation program also was well-received by detainees, Nevin observed, noting the program now averages about 1,600 visits weekly.

The establishment of a Multinational Forces Review Committee is another new initiative that provides detainees an opportunity to address a board of officers “to make their case as to why they should not be detained,” Nevin said.

Prior to the changes, he noted, detainees had no vehicle to voice their questions or concerns. “They had no one engaging them, no one talking with them,” the Army one-star general said.

Coalition officials work with the Iraqi Justice Ministry to adjudicate detainees’ cases, Nevin said. He also cited ongoing efforts between U.S. and Iraqi authorities to train a capable Iraqi force to take over detention operations in the future.

Today, the detainee population under coalition supervision in Iraq stands at about 23,000, having grown as the result of surge operations launched in early 2007, Nevin said. About 250 of those detainees are non-Iraqi, he noted.

Stone’s philosophy is that people detained for lesser crimes in coalition-managed facilities in Iraq will one day be released.

“He recognized these guys were going to get out and return to society” one day, Nevin said, noting that detainees now can appear before the review board every six months to solicit their release.

After Stone’s programs were implemented, the vast majority of former detainees are staying out of trouble, Nevin said.

“We’ve been tracking the recapture rate of detainees that have been released underneath this program from General Stone,” Nevin said. “And, so far, less than one out of 1,000 is being recaptured by the forces on the ground here.”

The new detention initiatives “really turned around the whole process,” Nevin said.

“Beforehand, what went on in detention was basically a ‘warehousing’ of people, and there was a lot of dissension and a lot of unknowns on the part of the detained population,” he said.

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