Tuesday, March 01, 2011

TOP STORY >> Dangers of holding Iraqi detainees

Special to The Leader

As a member of Task Force 134 in Iraq during the mid-2000s, Maj. Timothy McCarty, who is stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, oversaw the transfer and retraining of suspected terrorists at detainee camps in hopes of stopping acts of violence against military personnel and civilians.

McCarty is commander of the 19th Security Forces Squadron at Little Rock Air Force Base, where he is in charge of 289 service members who work in law enforcement and investigations.

In the heat of battle, at the height of the U.S. surge in 2006, McCarty was on the front lines retrieving suspected terrorists captured by other American soldiers assigned to topple Saddam Hussein, who was held in one of the camps where McCarty served for several months.

He did not like to go outside the detainee camps, which were protected by barbed wire, but he did get out 77 times and lived to tell about it.

“Whether you went to a helicopter or on the ground in a Humvee, it was still dangerous,” McCarty told the audience at the Jacksonville Museum of Military History on Thursday night after a violent storm pounded the central Arkansas area.

In his slide presentation, McCarty showed a photo of a boat house at Camp Victory in Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein was housed before an Iraqi court found him guilty of atrocities and sentenced him to death by hanging.

McCarty also had a photograph of two sets of gallows, which were side by side, but he told the audience no Americans were allowed to watch any of the detainees’ execution.

Hussein was apparently treated better than other detainees. McCarty recalls that Hussein was allowed to smoke cigars and on certain occasions had his own barber.

McCarty said when Hussein was turned over to to Iraqi officials, “Hussein shook hands with every one of the Americans in the room but not any of the Iraqis.”

Before Hussein’s execution, U.S. troops took steps to ensure his safety, according to McCarty.

McCarty’s base of operations had been at Camp Victory, but he also discussed two other camps — Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper — that housed detainees.

He still can’t discuss a lot of what he saw or did while he was in Iraq because much of it is still classified. His speech focused on capturing, detaining and interrogating insurgents 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He offered a rare glimpse into behind-the-scenes gleaning of information aimed at stopping roadside bombings and other attacks on U.S. soldiers.

McCarty said information gleaned from those detainees often means saving the lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Someone in the audience brought up the photos of naked detainees stacked up in humiliating poses, as well as allegations of sleep deprivation, water-boarding, hooding detainees and even playing loud music. Those abuses allegedly took place in Abu Ghraib.

“Those pictures you saw were true,” McCarty said. “But I never saw any water-boarding when I was there.”

McCarty said he had never witnessed any abuse of detainees, but he said turning young military personnel who are trained to fight a war into prison guards was a challenge.

He said some detainees would behave outrageously, such as throw fecal matter at the guards. A young inexperienced guard would be more likely to be provoked rather than to stand down, he explained.

Despite allegations of 21 or more photos depicting detainee abuse in 2009, McCarty thinks these cases to be “isolated,” not widespread.

McCarty wasn’t too happy to see representatives from the International Red Cross at one of the detainee camps. They would turn over a list of all the detainees and a Red Cross representative would then randomly choose a couple of people off that list.

U.S. military personnel would then have to locate those prisoners no matter where they had been transferred to after the book-in process.

“We could put them (IRC) off for seven days, but on the eighth, we must produce them,” McCarty explained.

His presentation also focused on goals set the camps, which included transferring, interrogating and providing education and job training.

Detainees were taught English and trained as mechanics and construction workers, he said. That training would help them find jobs and help rebuild Iraq.

In its initial stage, Camp Bucca housed about 6,500 detainees. It then grew to 15,000 and kept growing.

“In its heyday, Camp Bucca peaked out at 25,000,” McCarty said.

Camp Cropper housed from 1,000 to 1,500 detainees. They included various factions — Sunnis, Shia, Al’ Quiada and Kurds.

To keep them separated, detainees were given jumpsuits with different colors.

McCarty said camp scenes often resembled a certain type of American candy. The term befitting camp scenes often- times looked like a “bag of Skittles,” he said.

Americans may think of detainees being only men, but that was not the case. McCarty revealed that women and children, as young as 8, were also detained in the Iraqi war effort. However, he quickly added that the women were housed in a different location.

Asked if 8-year-olds were subjected to interrogations, McCarty said that children were not questioned.

“That’s against the law,” McCarty added.

McCarty said that when he left Iraq and returned to Little Rock Air Force Base, 32 of the wanted Iraqis depicted on 52 cards in a deck had been captured.