The announcement that detainee numbers in Iraq are falling is likely intended as another indicator of the increasing stability in the country, and I would imagine it will be folded into the good news narrative being driven by both Bush and McCain.
But it also illustrates some ongoing reasons for concern. The US military continues to detain Iraqis at a rate of 30 per month and holds them for an average of almost a year. Even as they attempt to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement, the United States continues to assert its right to detain anyone they deem to be a security risk, for as long as they remain a risk, and without any process of judicial review. Detainees held by the United States are excluded from Iraqi government decisions that might affect their detention, such as the amnesty directed toward reconciliation.
Here are the issues I have with this: If Iraq is becoming (or is to become) a functioning democracy that observes the rule of law, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the United States to start instituting and honouring fundamental principles such as habeas corpus? Should this be seen as an indication that the United States still does not have faith in the Iraqi justice system? And what is happening during the 330 days that an average detainee is held for? Given that less than 1% of those released need to be detained again, it would seem that the military has either developed the most effective rehabilitation program in the history of corrections, or I have to wonder whether some of these people might not have been reliably characterised as a security risk.
If the Bush administration wants to convince people that Iraq is moving toward becoming a stable and functional state, they need to begin integrating their actions with the country’s governmental and social institutions.