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Peace Porridge #36: 24 December 2003 - Juvenile Justice In Iraq

by peacehq Saturday, Dec. 27, 2003 at 4:42 PM

Things were different before the invasion! Liberation? Hardly! Terrorize? Absolutely! What possible chance is there to bring about peace in Iraq with storm trooper tactics against school children and teachers? The fact that some of these children have chosen Saddam over the soldiers of the US occupational forces must tell you something! It certainly should!

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, 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, and Dahr Jamail

(Secondary School under Siege by US Forces, 18 Dec. 2003, 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


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?

Tom Sager

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explanation Captain Rambo Saturday, Dec. 27, 2003 at 5:17 PM
terrorists more rationals Sunday, Dec. 28, 2003 at 8:16 AM

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