Bush Administration Official Disputes NY Times Story on Detainee Treatment in Iraq

In a statement obtained by this NewsBuster, a senior Bush
administration official has disputed a New York Times article, Jailed 2 Years, Iraqi Tells of Abuse by Americans that suggests
that the review process for detainees held by the U.S.
military in Iraq
is inadequate. The Times story is anecdotal, telling the story of Laith al-Ani,
an Iraqi Sunni who was released by U.S.
authorities last month. According to the Times story, "people like
Mr. Ani . . . are being held without charge and without access to tribunals
where their cases are reviewed."

Without responding to the specifics of Mr. Ani's case, the senior Bush
administration official told me that "the facts of our detention system
belie the themes of this article. We follow well-established standards of
review that go well above and beyond what the law requires. And we do so
in the face of a ruthless and determined enemy."

He offered the following overview of the review process:

  • Every individual detained by MNF-I receives a
    review within 14 days of being detained by the detaining unit. At
    this review, there is a determination of whether "there are
    reasonable grounds to believe" the person "poses a threat to
    security and stability in Iraq." This is a
    standard derived from governing UN Security Council Resolutions and
    law-of-war authorities.
  • Those who pass this initial review are then given
    another review, within seven days of being transferred to a theater
    internment facility. This is an evidentiary review, conducted by a judge
    advocate acting as a magistrate.
  • For those still held, there is another review, within
    180 days, by a Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) -- consisting of
    officers from MNF-I and representatives from Iraqi Government
    ministries.
  • The applicable UN and law-of-war authorities do not
    require the presence of the detainee at the reviews, but the procedures in
    place by U.S. authorities in fact
    permit detainees to submit information to be brought to the attention of
    the review board.

Concluded the official: "Bottom line: we do not hold
any detainee arbitrarily."

The Times track record in getting its fact straight on
detainee affairs in Iraq should be noted. On March 11, 2006, the paper ran a major front-page expose based on the claims of a man depicted as
the infamous hooded figure at Abu Ghraib. He turned out to be a total
fraud, resulting in this remarkable editor's note by the Times:

"A front-page article last Saturday profiled Ali Shalal Qaissi,
identifying him as the hooded man forced to stand on a box, attached to wires,
in a photograph from the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal of 2003 and 2004. He
was shown holding such a photograph. As an article on Page A1 today makes
clear, Mr. Qaissi was not that man. The Times did not adequately research Mr.
Qaissi's insistence that he was the man in the photograph. Mr. Qaissi's account
had already been broadcast and printed by other outlets, including PBS and
Vanity Fair, without challenge. Lawyers for former prisoners at Abu Ghraib
vouched for him. Human rights workers seemed to support his account. The
Pentagon, asked for verification, declined to confirm or deny it.

"Despite the previous reports, The Times should have been more persistent
in seeking comment from the military. A more thorough examination of previous
articles in The Times and other newspapers would have shown that in 2004
military investigators named another man as the one on the box, raising
suspicions about Mr. Qaissi's claim. The Times also overstated the conviction
with which representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International
expressed their view of whether Mr. Qaissi was the man in the photograph. While
they said he could well be that man, they did not say they believed he
was."

Mark was in Iraq
in November. Contact him at mark@gunhill.net

Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein
Mark Finkelstein is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.