Tuesday, January 27, 2009

U.S. Detention Policy in Iraq

I thought I'd pass along this article by Jeffrey Azarva in the latest issue of Middle East Quarterly. Azarva doesn't go easy on the United States, speaking of U.S. detention facilities as breeding grounds for extremists, in many cases turning those who only planted an IED or fought alongside Al Qaeda for financial reasons into strong opponents of the U.S. and Coalition forces.

It sounds like a typical liberal argument about the war: the U.S. occupation has just made more terrorists and insurgents-- first they fight against you for economic reasons, but then because you have made them hate you; American liberals may love these arguments for their own unhealthy reasons, but for a long time they were largely true. Detention facilities mixed the most radical terrorists with people who were largely innocent or were not very radical. There, they were made by the radicals to follow their own prison code-- backward, barbaric Sharia law.

But with the long overdue counter-insurgency (a development the liberals who proclaimed the whole war lost have tried to downplay), a new policy in the detention centers came also:
The military realized that the point of departure for any successful reform would be its ability to detect and segregate irreconcilables—those incorrigible detainees bent on upsetting the apple cart and imposing their extremism on others. Although detainee assessments were administered under Maj.-Gen. John D. Gardner, Stone's predecessor, they were significantly expanded following Gardner's transfer of authority to Stone. The task force figured out that it was in detention, more so than in the alleyways of Baghdad, where the worlds of coalition and insurgent forces met. To capitalize on this interaction, the task force employed psychologists, teachers, social workers, and Iraqi imams to paint a rough sketch of each detainee's background, including their religiosity, education, skills, work history, and general motivation. The evaluations have since assisted not only in the physical placement of detainees—those deemed extremist are now quarantined in modular housing units—but have also proved instrumental in shaping the military's innovative reintegration programs.

In conjunction with the psychological assessments, surveys of detainees reaffirmed the potential for their rehabilitation. Many detainees, it turned out, were not avowed jihadists but Iraqi civilians spurred on by pragmatic considerations. Research commissioned by the task force revealed that in a majority of cases, a confluence of factors contributed to the average detainee's arrest, such as illiteracy, fear of reprisal, underemployment, and the enticement of cash. Family demographic studies also helped to explain why otherwise law-abiding citizens gravitated toward the insurgency: 63 percent of detainees were married, 79 percent had children, and the overwhelming majority lived with their extended family. For those detainees who acted as family breadwinners, the allure of $200-$300 a month in supplemental income—Al-Qaeda's average recompense for planting a roadside bomb—was simply too strong to resist.

Armed with this knowledge, the task force set out to counteract these motivations and provide detainees with an alternative to joining the insurgency. Education, vocational, and enhanced family visitation programs formed the backbone of the military's efforts, filling a void previously exploited by extremists. In August 2007, the military set up Dar al-Hikma (House of wisdom), an education center accredited by the Iraqi Ministry of Education. The school, which is open to both juveniles and adults and offers a core curriculum of Arabic, English, math, science, civics, and geography, has turned into an unequivocal success: On a number of occasions, detainees have postponed their releases to finish studies, and parents without detained children have petitioned to enroll their kids in the program.

Perhaps the education programs' true center of gravity lies in the Islamic discussion program. There, vetted Iraqi clerics employ a moderate exegesis of the Qur'an to encourage debate and refute extremist arguments. Ironically, most insurgents are not devout. Polling of the population has revealed that, prior to detention, more than 70 percent of detainees were not fastidious mosque-goers; in fact, 36 percent had never even set foot in one. On other questions about piety, responses did not reflect stringent or immoderate beliefs. Even mid-level members of Al-Qaeda and the Shi‘ite Mahdi Army at times exhibited few signs of religious fervor.

On the surface, such information would seem to render moot the utility of such a program. But it does not. Al-Qaeda has long used a perverted interpretation of the Qur'an to proselytize among secular, illiterate, and disenfranchised Iraqis. But for those who do not arrive in detention possessed of religious fervor, the program still has merit, both in its ability to reduce future susceptibility and to encourage independent thinking. A number of imams who led the juvenile Islamic discussion program attested to this fact, telling this author that the program unlocked adolescents' minds and made them less vulnerable to brainwashing upon release.
It is interesting to consider this new policy in light of American liberalism's beliefs about our own prison system. They support rehabilitation, right?

The problem with this (for them) is that the detainees aren't being rehabilitated in their own ideology. The left of the Democratic Party (which means our new President) would see this as an imperialist indoctrination, a form of rape and torture even more severe than anything we might do physically to some important "militant."