By Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 25, 2008 - Coalition forces have returned nearly 13,000 Iraqi detainees to their families this year in the hopes that they will benefit a society they once helped fill with violence. The coalition's Joint Task Force 134 is working to reinstate between 30 and
45 detainees per day, and arming them with job skills and education before they are returned home.
"This is a process that shows the people of Iraq that we are working with the government of Iraq to reconcile the past," said Navy Lt. Micah Brewer, of Oceanside, Calif., a representative of the Multinational Force Review Committee.
The detainees benefit from a number of programs to better their lives. Carpentry, art, literacy, civics classes and even a sewing shop are among the many classes available during detainment,
"This process helps get them back to a normal life and hopefully helps bring Iraq to a level of normalcy that provides stability and peace," added Brewer, who is stationed on Camp Cropper, an internment facility just south of Baghdad that holds roughly 3,000 detainees.
"(Sewing) is one of the most popular classes," Brewer said of the course, which is taught by a parachute rigger. "By the end of the class, the detainees can learn to mend clothes, and all of them make a small stuffed camel for their children."
Camp Bucca, located in the southern-most province of Iraq, holds about 16,000 detainees, and hosts an enrichment school offering such courses as arithmetic, Arabic reading and writing, English and social sciences, among others.
Currently, there are more than 2,300 students enrolled in the intra-compound schools, and more than 2,700 have completed basic education; an additional 250 students finished the higher-level courses.
Since August 2007, more than 12,000 detainees have participated in work programs, which yield an hourly salary to help provide for their families.
The Bucca compound also holds a vocational technical school, an arts-and-crafts shop, a library and different recreational activities.
In fact, Bucca detainees have been working to craft 200 desks, which will be delivered in October to nearby schools in support of renovation efforts.
"The detainees here are learning vocational skills and receiving an education to assist them in providing for their families and become productive citizens to help in the rebuilding of Iraq," said Capt. Michael Greene, of Kansas City, Mo., with the 42nd Military Police Brigade at Camp Bucca.
The committee reviews nearly 700 cases each week, a process that allows review every six months for adults and every three months for juveniles, though women also hold priority over men. JTF 134 handles all the detainee operations throughout Iraq, as well as releases.
"They're able to present their case to a [review] board in a productive manner," Brewer said. "If they prove themselves to no longer be a security risk, the board will recommend they be reconciled back into society."
Fewer than one percent of citizens released have been recaptured due to criminal activity. Of the total number still detained, 4,500 are considered a high threat. They were captured for manufacturing bombs, direct involvement in attacks and confirmed membership in al-Qaida. The majority of the detainees in camps Bucca and Cropper were involved in a criminal activity - such as digging a hole on the side of the road or filling a hole with explosives - either because they were being paid or threatened to do so.
Prior to release, detainees are given a class that promotes peace, then they take an oath before an Iraqi judge stating they will not engage in terrorism or insurgency efforts.
"If one of these guys gets out and plants a (bomb), or kills a soldier or a Shiite or Sunni or anyone, and I find out about it, (I'll feel) I was part of a system that failed," Brewer said. "I know that this is war, and it is not perfect. But it reminds me that I need to take the job at hand seriously."
(Army Staff Sgt. Michel Sauret works in the public affairs office of Multinational Division Center).