National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 14, 2004

Christian peacemakers reported on Iraqi prisoner abuse in January

Religion News Service

Nearly four months before the publication of photos of Iraqi detainees abused by their coalition captors, a small Christian peace organization issued a report detailing incidents similar to those now sparking outcries from North America to the Middle East.

The report, covering the cases of 72 detainees, was released in January and addressed coalition raids on Iraqi homes, damage to and confiscation of personal property and treatment of detainees. The Christian peacemakers in Baghdad spent seven months last year interviewing detainees and their families and investigating their claims.

“So many detainees were showing up at our door, and no one was really working at it,” said Gene Stoltzfus, director of the Chicago-based Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Brethren, Mennonite and Quaker organization that has maintained a five- or six-person presence in Baghdad since October 2002. Stoltzfus has been to Iraq twice in the past six months.

In a personal meeting in late January, Christian peacemakers team members presented the report to Col. Mark Warren, a high-ranking legal officer in the office of Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Several weeks later, Christian peacemakers team members also met with Richard Jones, a deputy to coalition administrator Paul Bremer.

The report was positively received, said Christian peacemakers team member Cliff Kindy, who was at both meetings. But neither Warren nor Jones raised expectations for addressing detainee issues.

“They were clear: Bureaucracy takes a long time to move,” said Kindy, who concluded a second five-month Baghdad assignment in March.

Since then, abuses at Abu Ghraib prison have come to light, underscoring Christian peacemakers team’s earlier findings.

The Pentagon has widened its investigation of the treatment of detainees and prisoners to include the deaths of 25 Iraqis and Afghanis while in U.S. custody.

“The common sentiment is that the coalition treatment of detainees is as bad as, if not worse than, treatment under the Hussein regime,” the Christian peacemakers team reported in January. “Certainly these problems are exaggerated in rumors, but Christian peacemakers team reports show that detention conditions are deplorable at best.”

“We could have told more gruesome stories than we told [in the report],” Stoltzfus said. “We tried to err on the modest side.”

He said Christian peacemakers team heard reports of naked prisoners and sexual abuse but chose not to publicize them because of fears of accusations of sensationalism. “We’re not sure if we should have pushed that question harder,” Stoltzfus said.

National Catholic Reporter, May 14, 2004

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