Iraqi 'tiger team' fights for detainee rights
October 26, 2006
MAHMUDIYAH - Iraqi Security Forces are operating with increasing success, capturing a growing number of suspected terrorists and insurgents daily. That's where the Tiger Team comes in.
With increased success in one area, other government sectors often find a new set of challenges. For example, growing numbers of detainees can put a strain on the facilities mean to contain them. Another such challenge : the security issues facing local judges and investigators attempting to prosecute the detainees for their crimes.
Pressed to find a solution, the Ministry of Defense Inspector General's office and Ministry of Justice combined efforts to produce the Tiger Team.
The new team consists of four investigators, two judges and one district attorney. They travel the country processing local detainees in an effort ease the burden on local government officials and facilities.
The team is seeing success, and on a recent two-day visit to 4th Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division's detainee facility in Southern Baghdad processed 330 detainees, convicting 267 of them for various crimes.
According to Ali, an Iraqi judge, when someone is arrested in Iraq, they cannot be processed without first seeing a judge.This poses a problem for most judges because insurgents and terrorists are known to target innocent families to pressurejudges to set guilty men free. As a result of the security challenge they cause, detainees can be held for some time before being processed.
According to Dr. Kevin Kavanaugh, a Coalition human rights mentor, the tiger team concept is part of a new initiative setforth by the Iraqi High Judicial Council, similar to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said this new approach helps fight overpopulation and protects the detainees' basic human rights.
"Bringing the team of judges out to the facilities was very critical because some of the detainees have been here for over ayear," he explained.
"This allowed us to adjudicate those cases and now we have a hope of getting the case load down to where it should beand actually get detainees convicted in 30 to 60 days instead of one to two years. This is a positive step forward in themovement for justice," he added.
He said the judges on the Tiger Team are very aggressive and, more importantly, aren't from one specific region, meaning they are less likely swayed by local influence.
According to Air Force Capt. Joanne Baker, Coalition human rights mentor, the team also helped relieve a similar problemwith local informants.
"In Iraq the accused have the right to face their accusers," Baker said, "therefore informants have been afraid to go beforelocal judges because they don't want their names released."
She said the judges mandated they will be the only people to know the identity of the informants.
"This alleviates the informant problem and allows protection for informants so they can feel free to report crime again,"Baker said.
According to Baker and Kavanaugh, this was a first-time collaborative effort between the MOJ, the MOD with Coalition assistance, and the result is very effective, with more than 330 detainees processed on their first visit. Based on thatsuccess, the team anticipates visiting each division's detainee facility every 90 days until capacities return to normal and detainees are processed with due diligence.
Judge Ali said he believes the approach is crucial at this time. "(As a judge) my job is to help find the solution toproblems, and our problem now is that every detainee has a right to be brought before a judge in a timely manner," heexplained. "This has not been happening. This is why we have come here, to solve this problem. This is why I became a judge," he continued. "We still have a long way to go, but this is a large step in the right direction for detainee rights in Iraq."