Washing Our Hands of Iraq’s Missing Million
I mentioned some scary numbers in yesterday’s post – in particular that anywhere from 250,000 to 1 million Iraqis have disappeared in recent years and not yet been found by their loved ones. These numbers come from three major eras in Iraq’s recent history:
- War with Iran: Enforced disappearances occurred relatively often in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
- Saddam Hussein: In the 90s until 2003, Hussein’s regime had a sort of monopoly on erasing the Iraqi people from existence without trial.
- US-Led Invasion: The arrival of US forces in 2003 meant a major shift in the causes and culprits of state-sponsored abductions.
To (over)simplify it, after the US “Shock and Awe” invasion into Iraq, every side in a complex war proceeded to commit abuses – and those abuses included the abduction, detainment and torture of people without due process of law or notification of loved ones.
These enforced disappearances may factor into the roughly 30% of displaced Iraqi families who report missing children and family members (UNHCR report PDF).
Can you imagine? 1 out of every 3 families missing a child or close relative with absolutely no idea what’s become of them. Those numbers are catastrophic, complex, and most likely long-term for many victims.
Now the United States is backing out of Iraq, and thus out of guilt, so-to-speak. While US forces have held prisoner tens of thousands of Iraqis in the last few years, they are now passing those prisoners on to Iraqi security.
Problem is, when you knowingly hand someone over to possible torture and secretive detention, you don’t look like a dimple-faced cherub all of a sudden.
So what can we do? Isn’t it better than nothing that we are getting out and passing the buck on this one?
Human rights advocates suggest that the United States refuse to hand prisoners over to anyone if there is a possibility they will be tortured or wrongfully detained. In addition they recommend the US supply all detainees with proper legal counsel, and ensure that any victims of torture or enforced disappearance receive reparations.
Those actions could be the start of something good. Of course, pigs could also fly if they had big enough wings (or if they could just get past the TSA).
Amnesty International produced an extensive report on this issue in 2010 (PDF).