They weren't happy. These soldiers had orders today to collect terror suspects from Camp Cropper, America's highest-security jail in Iraq, and release them.
The 14 detainees had been arrested red-handed and may even have killed U.S. soldiers. They were being released in the name of reconciliation. Commanders say prisoner release is one of the most frequent demands made by tribal leaders.
TT is sitting in a Humvee inside Camp Cropper. There's enough barbed wire here to fence a country. A notice reads:
Theatre Internment Facility
No MP3 players
No computer drives
No physical training uniforms
No reading material not related to duty
No obscene material
Another says no photographs, so you'll have to take my word that TT was there.
The Iraqis are blindfolded. They're led onto a bus. For some reason it is a beautiful old chrome-plated touring bus with Dutch licence plates. As though Camp Cropper might be a slightly faded European spa resort.
We drive some way to the release point. The bad guys are led off their bus.
Now, it's all very well releasing terrorists. But won't they go back to their old tricks?
Commanders had thought of that. The detainees were to be released into the hands of local tribal chiefs, who would swear to keep these young men on the straight and narrow.
Except that the officer in charge here today was a lieutenant of 25 years of age.
He somehow forgot that there was meant to be some kind of solemn ceremony. And he took just a few seconds to cut the zip ties on the detainees' wrists before jumping back in his Humvee.
The prisoners wandered off into the desolation of an Iraqi suburb, perhaps dazed at the speed of their release.
Within a few minutes the radio burst into life with colourful Airborne Assault-style language. The lieutenant was going to get the kicking of his life upon return to HQ. Partly because the ceremony hadn't happened; but mostly because his team had messed up in front of a journalist.
TT didn't care. TT at age 25 wasn't on top of the game either. But one thing did seem worrisome, and this was not what the soldiers cared about: did the prisoners make it safely home? Without the planned tribal-elder escort, anything might have befallen them on the way.
Friday, 19 September 2008
Posted by Travelling Type at 21:10