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Iraq slams U.S. detentions, immunity for troops
Iraq's justice minister has condemned the U.S. military for detaining thousands of Iraqis for long periods without charge and wants to change a U.N. resolution that gives foreign troops immunity from Iraqi law.
"No citizen should be arrested without a court order," he said this week, complaining that U.S. suggestions that his ministry has an equal say on detentions were misleading.
"There is abuse (of human rights) due to detentions, which are overseen by the Multinational Force (MNF) and are not in the control of the justice ministry," said Shandal, a Shi'ite judge respected for standing up to Saddam Hussein on the rule of law.
Killings and unjustified arrests of Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops risked going unpunished, he said, because of U.N. Security Council resolution 1546, which granted U.S.-led forces sweeping powers following their overthrow of Saddam in 2003.
"The resolution ... gives immunity to the MNF and means taking no action against the MNF no matter what happens or whatever they do against the people of Iraq," Shandal said.
"We're hoping to make more efforts with the Security Council and the whole United Nations to end this resolution or amend it so that anyone who violates Iraqi law or assaults any citizen is held accountable," he said. "This is a matter of sovereignty."
He said he was pressing the occupying forces to speed up releases for some of the 10,000 Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, often for many months without charge, on suspicion of aiding Sunni Arab insurgents.
Last month, 1,000 men were freed from Abu Ghraib, notorious under Saddam and under U.S. control since 2003, as Iraq's Shi'ite-led government and Washington tried to appease the once dominant Sunni minority. The United Nations said last week faster releases could promote Sunni acceptance of the new political system.
Iraqi officials voice frustration with U.S. and British vetoes on some requests for release, noting that Iraqis have been held for two years without charge to "gather intelligence".
Speaking of the Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) which guarantees detainees a hearing every six months, Shandal said: "The representatives of the MNF in the committee have the rights and all the authority under the U.N. resolution."
Shandal said he was concerned about the U.S. military's refusal to accord special consideration to the media and at the number of journalists detained for many months by U.S. troops.
Among these are two cameramen for Reuters. One of them is Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, who was ordered detained by the CRRB last month as a "threat to the people of Iraq". The military will not say what suspicions it has against him.
Asked to clarify the CRRB definition of "threat", Shandal said: "It's a catch-all term to portray this person as a threat to the nation and allow the other side to keep him in custody."
Asked if the government approved of such measures, which U.S. generals say they implement with Iraqi official support, he said: "I am a man of law and a judge and I respect human rights ... No citizen should be arrested without a court order."
Though the nature of their work brings journalists under suspicion from both sides, the U.S. command in Iraq refuses to consider special treatment for accredited reporters and says it will detain them under the same conditions as any other suspect.
Shandal, however, said journalists needed special protection and defended independent reporting from all sides, including from rebel-held areas. He insisted on journalists' right to film and interview Iraq's insurgents without fear of arrest or worse.
"In this time of conflict ... between terrorists and the army or Multinational Forces, the journalist comes to the fore.
"Full freedom should be given to journalists to take pictures and film in the field," he said. "Without images what would we know of history? ... We would know nothing."