NEVER again did families in Baghdad imagine that they need fear the midnight knock at the door.
But in recent weeks there have been increasing reports of Iraqi men, women and even children being dragged from their homes at night by American patrols, or snatched off the streets and taken, hooded and manacled, to prison camps around the capital.
Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F).
One of the most disturbing incidents concerns Sufiyan Abd al-Ghani, 11, who was with his uncle in a car that was stopped near his home in Hay al-Jihad at just after 10pm on May 27. The boy’s father heard a commotion and rushed outside to see him sprawled face down on the road with a rifle muzzle pressed against his neck and US officers shouting that someone in the car had shot at them.
Sufiyan was made to stay on the ground for three hours, while more than 100 soldiers poured into the neighborhood, searching houses and cars. Eventually he was taken away with his hands trussed behind his back and a hood draped over his head. No weapon had been found. The boy said that soldiers dug rifle butts into his neck and back and that the first night he was handcuffed and left alone in a tiny room open to the sky.
The following day he was moved to the airport, where he said for eight days he shared a tent with 22 adults, sleeping on the dirt, with no water to wash or change his clothes.
Sufiyan said that he was pulled from the tent one morning, hooded and manacled again, and driven to Sarhiyeh prison, to be kept in a room with 20 other youths aged 15 or 16 regarded as minors by the Geneva Convention.
A woman inmate took his name and details and when she was released she alerted Sufiyan’s family. On June 21, the family obtained an injunction from a judge ordering the boy’s release, but they were told at the prison that the signature of an Iraqi judge no longer had legal authority. Even when an American military lawyer demanded his freedom, US troops refused to release him until the lawyer appeared at the prison. Privately US military lawyers say that they are appalled at how some of the arrests are being carried out.