blogenlust
8.09.2004

The Seattle Times: Oregon Guard unit told to return prisoners to Iraqi abusers


If nearly 1,000 of my peers were killed in a war to defeat a tyrant who tortured his citizens, I'd be pissed too, if I had been involved in this.
BAGHDAD, Iraq %97 The National Guardsman peering through the long-range scope of his rifle was startled by what he saw unfolding in the walled compound below. From his post several stories above ground level, he watched as men in plainclothes beat blindfolded and bound prisoners in the enclosed grounds of the Iraqi Interior Ministry. He immediately radioed for help. Soon after, a team of Oregon Army National Guard soldiers swept into the yard and found dozens of Iraqi detainees who said they had been beaten, starved and deprived of water for three days. In a nearby building, the soldiers counted dozens more prisoners and what appeared to be torture devices: metal rods, rubber hoses, electrical wires and bottles of chemicals. Many of the Iraqis, including one identified as a 14-year-old boy, had fresh welts and bruises across their backs and legs. The soldiers disarmed the Iraqi jailers, moved the prisoners into the shade, released their handcuffs and administered first aid. Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson of Albany, Ore., the highest-ranking American at the scene, radioed for instructions. But in a move that frustrated and infuriated the guardsmen, Hendrickson's superior officers told him to return the prisoners to their abusers and immediately withdraw. It was June 29 %97 Iraq's first official day as a sovereign country since the U.S.-led invasion. The incident, the first confirmed case of human-rights abuses in newly sovereign Iraq, is at the heart of the American dilemma here. In handing over power, U.S. officials gave Iraqis authority to run their own institutions %97 even if they made mistakes. But officials understand that the United States will be held responsible when the new Iraqi authorities stumble. "Iraqis want us to respect their sovereignty, but the problem is we will be blamed for leaving the fox in charge of the henhouse," said Michael Rubin, a former adviser to the interim Iraqi government who is now at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank. "We did not generally put good people in."
I thought we were supposed to take steps forward, not backward.