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 is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.