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Don’t Release Terrorists

As I have previously written, the tentative security accord between the U.S. and Iraq contains some cause for concern-and nowhere more so than in its provisions rescinding U.S. authority to arrest and detain suspected terrorists. While the impact of these rules going forward remains to be determined, they could have a catastrophic impact if they force the release of dangerous detainees already in U.S. custody. This New York Times article suggests that this may very well be the case Correspondent Alissa Rubin writes:

Among the detainees still in American custody, about 5,000 are considered “dangerous radicals,” said Brig. Gen. David E. Quantock, commanding general for Task Force 134, which oversees the detention system in Iraq. The United States will probably have to release about 4,000 of them when the military’s right to detain people expires at year’s end, he said.

Most of the remaining 12,000 detainees are people who the Americans believe either were mistakenly swept up or played minor roles in the insurgency and are unlikely to return to it as long as they can find work.

Under the proposed rules, the United States would be permitted to hold a detainee under only two circumstances: if there is enough evidence for an Iraqi judge to issue an arrest warrant, or if a suspect is already charged and awaiting trial. And the Iraqis would have to request that the United States continue to hold the person.

At the moment, American officials say, they believe they will be able to meet that standard for only about a fifth of those they consider dangerous.

“On around 1,000, we’ll get the evidence to charge them in the Iraqi court system,” General Quantock said. “On 4,000, we’ll have to work a hard guarantor program.”

A guarantor program is one in which a member of the community, like a tribal leader, agrees to sponsor the detainee, pledging that if he commits an offense, the tribal leader or another person in the community will go to jail for him. Military officials say it is not clear if they will be able to find sponsors for those who were truly bad actors.

Trying to find guarantors for the good conduct of hard-core Al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists seems like a fool’s errand. There is no way that these hard-core bad guys should ever be released under any circumstances. If that in fact happens at the end of the year, expect that 2009 will see a lot of innocent casualties, Iraqi as well as American. It is not too late to avert this outcome, but it is imperative that Iraqi officials work with the U.S. to agree on some kind of legal framework that will allow the indefinite detention of these desperadoes, at first in American custody, later perhaps transferring to Iraqi custody once the Iraqis develop the capacity to hold high-risk prisoners in a secure environment.



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