'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Most Popular Demand of Iraqi Kidnappers 

Jill Carroll's captors say she will die unless the US releases all female prisoners in Iraq. Informed readers should realize that this is by no means a new demand: Ken Bigley's murderers called for the same thing, as did Margaret Hassan's, as well as Simona Toretta's and Simona Pari's captors. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the US is complying with the demand this time around. The US has acknowledged the existence of eight female Iraqi prisoners and the BBC reports that six of them have just been released but implies that the freeing of the inmates had nothing to do with Jill Carroll:

Iraq's ministry of justice has told the BBC that six of the eight women being held by coalition forces in Iraq have been released early. The six were freed because there was insufficient evidence to charge them, a justice ministry spokesman said.

The US forces have refused to confirm the releases, but say they would not be based on any operational activities.

The group holding US journalist Jill Carroll has said she will die unless all Iraqi women prisoners are freed.

CNN, on the other hand, reports that there are ten female prisoners, six of whom have not been freed but are "scheduled to be released soon", again for reasons unrelated to the kidnapping.

The situation was handled very differently in the cases of Bigley and Hassan, both of whom were British. In the case of Bigley, the US refused to even admit the existence of female prisoners much less free them. Actually, it depended on who was talking and how early on in the story they were talking.

The initial official sources tried to plant the idea of the nonexistence of female Iraqi prisoners in the press by splitting hairs, claiming that there were no female inmates in the two prisons specifically mentioned by Bigley's kidnappers. Here's an excerpt from a CNN transcript from September 20, 2004:

[Betty] NGUYEN [, CNN anchor]: A lot of anxious people are awaiting word on several hostages being held in Iraq. [ ... ] That deadline is fast approaching.

[David] CLINCH [, CNN International editor]: It is. And you know everything about this story is awkward, difficult for us to cover, difficult for the U.S. authorities and everybody else. You know these hostage takers have created a very dangerous and disturbing dynamic in these hostage-taking situations. It's bad enough of course for the families for everybody else to consider the horrific fate of people if deadlines are looming. That's one part. But of course then they tie it of course to these complicated, sometimes contradictory demands that they put out.

NGUYEN: Right, with the female prisoners.

CLINCH: For instance, in this case, demanding that female prisoners be released from prisons in Iraq. Now the U.S. authorities there say we don't really know what they are talking about. There are no female prisoners in those prisons that they have mentioned. Yes, there are some females that they have taken into custody over the last year or more who were on the most wanted list, but not sitting in those prisons that they have mentioned.

NGUYEN: In those two prisons.

A couple of days went by and the official story changed with, as far as I can tell, no comment from the press. Sources now claimed that the only two female detainees in all of Iraq were Dr. Rihab Taha and Dr. Huda Ammash, the so-called Dr.Germ and Mrs. Anthrax. The following, for example, is from a story published three days after the CNN excerpt cited above:

The kidnappers say they will behead [Briton Kenneth Bigley], as they did to two Americans this week, unless all Iraqi women are freed from US-run jails. [...]

The US military says it only holds two female prisoners in Iraq - Taha and Huda Ammash, dubbed "Dr Germ" and "Mrs Anthrax" by US forces. They are accused of working on former president Saddam Hussein's weapons programs.

Now I suppose when David Clinch spoke of "some females that they have taken into custody" he could have been referring only to Raha and Ammash but such a reading seems like a stretch to me. In any case the original line that there were no female prisoners in two named prisons was probably what was true and the later claim was probably false.

The existence of female prisoners had actually been commented on in the public record by September of 2004; see, for example, this old post of mine. Abuse of female prisoners was a big part of the Abu Ghraib scandal that was shamefully glossed over by the American corporate press -- the fact is, for example, Abu Ghraib ringleader Specialist Charles Graner's crimes against women were specifically mentioned in his court martial. I view such facts as evidence that the US military was simply lying when it claimed there were no female prisoners held by American forces in the fall of 2004 -- a lie that the US press enabled by downplaying the abuse of women and children at Abu Ghraib to begin with. At one time there were clearly female prisoners at Abu Ghraib, if the military wasn't lying in the fall of 2004 it means that every single one of them was released without a word from the press.

It is interesting that this time around, in the case of Jill Carroll, the US is not bothering to lie about the female detainees. It is also interesting that the press seems to find nothing odd about the fact that all of a sudden female detainees exist again.

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