PEACE PORRIDGE #36: 24 December 2003|
JUVENILE JUSTICE IN IRAQ: BEFORE AND AFTER THE US INVASION
This past week three articles on juvenile justice in Iraq under the US occupation have caught my attention.
Kathy Kelly (The Two Troublemakers, 22 Dec. 2003, http://www.commondreams.org/views03/1222-01.htm) tells the story of two Palestinian students, Fadi and Jihad, who were thrown in a US military prison in Baghdad for no other reason then being Palestinians. Fadi relates the way young children were treated in this prison by US soldiers:
"There were 13 year old kids in with us," Fadi said. "Sometimes they would throw candies from their humvees, shouting 'Bark like a dog, and I'll throw you the candy'..Some of the small children were crying in the night, asking to go home to their families. We were trying to get them quiet."
"Some of the prisoners were criminals, thieves. They put the children with them. Some of them tried to abuse children. We told the guards, they started laughing."
"One prisoner tried to rape a kid and he refused, so they made a cut on his face."
Jo Wilding (Arresting Children, 18 Dec. 2003, http://electroniciraq.net/news/1274.shtml) and Dahr Jamail (Secondary School under Siege by US Forces, 18 Dec. 2003, http://electroniciraq.net/news/1271.shtml) write about a raid by US forces on an Iraqi secondary school. Jo Wilding quotes an English teacher at the school:
"Yesterday they surrounded the school and came in with weapons everywhere, soldiers everywhere and used tear gas on the students. They fired guns to scare them, above their heads. One student got a broken arm because of the beating. They had some sticks, electric sticks and they hit the students. Some of them were vomiting, some of them were crying and they were very afraid."
These articles made me think of two instances of juvenile justice which I witnessed in Iraq during the two years before the US invasion. For comparison, I relate them below:
March 2001: I'm traveling with the second Veterans for Peace Iraq Water Project delegation. We're staying at the Basrah Sheraton along with a delegation of American Muslims. The hotel guards have ejected two shoeshine boys who have become a little bit pushy. (Understandable, when you think that the pittance they eke out shining shoes for wealthy foreigners, might mean the difference between life and death for their families.) One of my colleagues wants her shoe's shined. The hotel guard lets the older boy in, but makes the younger one stay outside the gate. The younger boy gets angry, screams at the guard and then picks up a rock and throws it, hitting the guard squarely, drawing blood.
I think, now there is going to be trouble. The guard grabs the boy by the arm, picks up a club that he has in the guard house and beats the boy soundly. One of my colleagues is really upset and wants to intervene. No, I tell her, it will only make things worse.
The beating ends. The boy picks up his shoeshine kit and runs off bawling. I think, that's the last we'll see of him.
The following morning, surprise! The two shoeshine boys are waiting at the hotel gate as we prepare to leave. I signal to the hotel guard that I want a shoeshine. He lets the older boy in. I shake my head, no, and point to the younger boy. The guard looks surprised, shrugs, and then lets the younger boy in to shine my shoes. I give him a pretty fair tip and he leaves.
I think how if this had happened in the States, the boy would have spent time in juvenile detention, all sorts of authorities would have gotten involved, and the case would have dragged on and on and on. In Iraq, justice may be harsh, but its swift. And when its over, its over.
May 2002: I'm in the Basrah area with the third Iraq Water Project delegation. There is talk of war, and the authorities are clearly concerned. They have assigned an armed policeman to accompany us. This is the first and only time I've ever been accompanied by an armed guard in Iraq. I try to engage him in conversation, but to no avail. He appears very professional, but standoffish.
We're visiting the neighborhood of al-Jumariyah, a poor neighborhood that was bombed by the US in 1998 as part of the Desert Fox operation. One of my colleagues goes into a small shop and buys some cookies and starts giving them out to the local children. Word gets around quickly. Within minutes every kid in the neighborhood is trying to push his way into the store to get some cookies.
The policeman stands on the steps in front of the store trying to hold the crowd back. I'm not sure how it happened, but the next thing I know I'm standing foot to foot and shoulder to shoulder with the policeman holding the crowd back. It's unreal. It's like a game of king of the mountain. This cop is good. He pushes the kids away from the store front, ever so gently, almost tenderly.
One of the older boys, maybe 16, yells something at the policeman. I don't know what he said, but clearly it wasn't very nice. Out comes a billy club and the cop wades through the crowd, gives the boy one good swat on the shoulder, and returns to the front of the store. I look up, the boy is holding his arm, in obvious pain.
The cookies are gone. The crowd melts away. I'm thinking, I must be crazy. I came 10,000 miles to do crowd control with an Iraqi policeman?
T walks into the store crying. R was giving out pencils, she says. Some of the big kids got three. Many didn't get any. Yeah, I think, distribution. The devil's in the distribution.
T has made friends with a young girl who walks in and puts her head on T's lap. I ask T, did your friend get any cookies? She shakes her head, no. I take one of the few bags of cookies left on the shelf and put it in the girl's hand. I offer the proprietor some money. He refuses. I offer again. He refuses again. I offer a third time. He still refuses.
At lunch the policeman seems friendly. I think he appreciated the help. Being responsible for the safety of a delegation of foreigners can't be a lot of fun.
He asks me, is it true that in America anyone can own a gun? Yes, I respond, almost anyone. Then how can you keep bad people from owning guns? he asks, almost triumphantly. Well, I say tentatively, we don't. He looks at me with the air of a man who has just won a debate. Well ok, I think, you win.
And so, dear reader, I leave you with a question. Which system of juvenile justice is more appropriate for Iraq: The system described by Jo Wilding, Dahr Jamail, and Kathy Kelly which is being enforced now by the US military occupation? or the system which I witnessed prior to the US invasion? Given the differences between the two systems, do you wonder why Iraqis are calling for an end to the occupation? Do you wonder why some are even saying that they want Saddam back?