Who Goes Free?

· long story short

I would guess that for the prison officials, the risks authorizing a prisoner’s release were considerable, while the potential rewards were scant. If someone you released turned up later attacking US forces, it might, in effect, end your career.
But even bureaucratically, if the records are missing, or they are vague about the reason for detention, that doesn’t all of a sudden change. There is no new evidence, you don’t know what you are dealing with, and the safest thing is to just keep them on hold, for the same reason they were arrested in the first place..
So maybe in Iraq, all of this was fatally intensified by the way these people became prisoners. The prisons were overcrowded. But why?
Following victory in Baghdad, US forces were embarrassed by their public ineffectuality. They stood by while the country was looted and wrecked before their eyes. Then they started suffering losses to invisible, untraceable guerilla adversaries, which again left them flat-footed.
They had to take some kind of action, and it came in the form of a succession of very large-scale “sweeps.” Since we didn”t exactly have a geographical enemy (which Falluja later became, when we “attacked” it for a bloody week), it was not “search and destroy,” it was “search and detain.” At the end of each sweep, the headline result, the measure of success was what could be called the “detainee-count.”
Thank God, this was not the sanguinary “body-count” of Vietnam, but the psycho-political dynamic was in many ways the same. Human beings were commoditized for political consumption. They were prisoners basically because they were imprisoned.
It sounds like in many/most cases there was nothing we wanted them to answer for, and nothing we wanted to get out of them, hence nothing they could do to earn release. And anyone who was released, especially in short order, could count as an admission of injustice.
So I am thinking that a possible substrate to the dehumanization was the original pointlessness of the incarceration: the prisoners as an indistinguishable, undifferentiated mass that it was natural to pile up in heaps for your amusement.