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Iraq: 3,000 High-Risk Detainees

02/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As the Obama administration starts drawing down troops in Iraq and relocating them in Afghanistan many unsolved problems linger in the balance. The most crucial issue (for Iraq) is what the U.S. Military will do with approximately 18,500 Iraqi detainees still in custody. The current plan is to begin releasing them over to Iraqi jurisdiction. If these prisoners, when freed, return to terrorist activity it will be the biggest road block to a stable democracy in Iraq -- if that's even possible.

A very large majority of Iraqi detainees have been unnecessarily imprisoned. However, many real hardliner terrorists have been captured. There is no doubt that many of these terrorists will reenter terrorist networks and begin killing again.

The Iraqi Judicial System's criteria for a conviction requires that either the defendant confess to his crime or at least 2 eye witnesses testify for prosecution. As it stands the Iraqi Judicial system mandates no forensic evidence to obtain a conviction.

Iraqi detainees have been classified into two categories: low-risk and high-risk. The low-risk detainees are the paid trigger pullers and bomb planters who we feel can be rehabilitated. The high-risk detainees are no nonsense jihadists.

It has been reported that the U.S. military currently has 3,000 high-risk detainees in custody.

Brigadier General Robert Kenyon, who runs the Iraqi detainee center at Camp Cropper, said:

many of those 3,000 men will go free unless the United States can persuade Iraqi judges to loosen their traditional rules that require two witnesses or a confession to convict someone.

The premium now for the Iraqi government is to pressure Nouri al-Maliki to let these guys walk. After all, the detainees' original motives were to kill Americans, not Iraqis. Civil war was the result. If Maliki doesn't comply how will the Iraqi government get criminal convictions? In some of the more corrupt Iraqi Judicial Districts two men could be pulled off the street and told "okay, you're the witnesses for the prosecution." Believe me; it's not too far fetched.

The Iraqis hate housing prisoners. Their idea, for the most part, is to either execute the prisoners, torture them, or let them go. So it's highly probable that these 3,000 terrorists will be released back into circulation and they're going to rock-and-roll. They know it and they're getting ready.

Who's to stop them? The Iraqis?

We've bought off most of our enemies in Iraq -- Sunni and Shia. However, we didn't change their ideology toward killing each other or Americans. The Sunnis continue getting weapons through Jordan and Syria. Many foreign fighters entered Iraq through those countries. The Mahdi Army and Shiite death squads are still armed to the teeth. We've never taken away their toys and they still receive money and weapons from Iran. The wounds of the Iraq's civil war can easily be reopened.

I have the deepest respect for General Odierno, but I'm skeptical of his prediction that if the next Iraqi election cycle is peaceful the calm will be irreversible -- that's a big stretch. That would mean that when the elections are over Iraqis (instead of resorting back to violence) will say "let's talk commerce and make money." The idea that the Iraqis are going to come together (at the present time) as a testament to our great optimism is false. They're in no way, shape, or form systematized in a way that makes a free society work.

When the United States removes the safety harness the Iraqis will be playing without a net. Three thousand terrorists will run free working hard to disrupt the progress the Iraqi people have made. The very progress that made it possible for the U.S. to start removing troops.

These 3,000 bad guys could be the matches that set off the powder kegs. And that's just the known number of terrorists. Once free they'll recruit more people quadrupling their numbers. Should that happen, we'll be back to high violence and wholesale destruction. Then what?

I'm not making an argument for a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. I argue for the exact opposite. I feel the solution is direct unconditional diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors -- including Iran. After all, Iran is tremendously influential with the majority Shiite population in Iraq.

We need to persuade Iraq's neighbors to work with us in eliminating the radical jihadists who want to perpetuate turmoil in Iraq and the entire Middle East. Will it work? I don't know. I imagine the United States will have to make some serious concessions. We can't continue to impose non-starter ultimatums on Arab countries and expect them to fall in line. If we don't cut Iraq's neighbors a little slack, the consequences of not doing so will be far worse.