BAGHDAD - Iraq's justice minister has condemned
the U.S. military for detaining thousands of Iraqis for long
periods without charge and wants to change a U.N. resolution
that gives foreign troops immunity from Iraqi law.
Speaking to Reuters, Justice Minister Abdul Hussein Shandal
also criticized U.S. detentions of Iraqi journalists and said
the media, contrary to U.S. policy in Iraq, must have special
legal protection to report on all sides in the conflict.
"No citizen should be arrested without a court order," he
said this week, complaining that U.S. suggestions that his
ministry has an equal say on detentions were misleading.
"There is abuse (of human rights) due to detentions, which
are overseen by the Multinational Force (MNF) and are not in
the control of the justice ministry," said Shandal, a Shi'ite
judge respected for standing up to Saddam Hussein on the rule
Killings and unjustified arrests of Iraqi civilians by U.S.
troops risked going unpunished, he said, because of U.N.
Security Council resolution 1546, which granted U.S.-led forces
sweeping powers following their overthrow of Saddam in 2003.
"The resolution ... gives immunity to the MNF and means
taking no action against the MNF no matter what happens or
whatever they do against the people of Iraq," Shandal said.
"We're hoping to make more efforts with the Security
Council and the whole United Nations to end this resolution or
amend it so that anyone who violates Iraqi law or assaults any
citizen is held accountable," he said. "This is a matter of
He said he was pressing the occupying forces to speed up
releases for some of the 10,000 Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib
prison and elsewhere, often for many months without charge, on
suspicion of aiding Sunni Arab insurgents.
Last month, 1,000 men were freed from Abu Ghraib, notorious
under Saddam and under U.S. control since 2003, as Iraq's
Shi'ite-led government and Washington tried to appease the once
dominant Sunni minority. The United Nations said last week
faster releases could promote Sunni acceptance of the new
Iraqi officials voice frustration with U.S. and British
vetoes on some requests for release, noting that Iraqis have
been held for two years without charge to "gather
Speaking of the Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB)
which guarantees detainees a hearing every six months, Shandal
said: "The representatives of the MNF in the committee have the
rights and all the authority under the U.N. resolution."
Shandal said he was concerned about the U.S. military's
refusal to accord special consideration to the media and at the
number of journalists detained for many months by U.S. troops.
Among these are two cameramen for Reuters. One of them is
Ali Omar Abrahem al-Mashhadani, who was ordered detained by the
CRRB last month as a "threat to the people of Iraq." The
military will not say what suspicions it has against him.
Asked to clarify the CRRB definition of "threat," Shandal
said: "It's a catch-all term to portray this person as a threat
to the nation and allow the other side to keep him in custody."
Asked if the government approved of such measures, which
U.S. generals say they implement with Iraqi official support,
he said: "I am a man of law and a judge and I respect human
rights ... No citizen should be arrested without a court
Though the nature of their work brings journalists under
suspicion from both sides, the U.S. command in Iraq refuses to
consider special treatment for accredited reporters and says it
will detain them under the same conditions as any other
Shandal, however, said journalists needed special
protection and defended independent reporting from all sides,
including from rebel-held areas. He insisted on journalists'
right to film and interview Iraq's insurgents without fear of
arrest or worse.
"In this time of conflict ... between terrorists and the
army or Multinational Forces, the journalist comes to the fore.
"Full freedom should be given to journalists to take
pictures and film in the field," he said. "Without images what
would we know of history? ... We would know nothing."
© Reuters 2005