Notes from an Iraqi police station

 Greg is a member of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad. Four colleagues (including Norman Kember from London) have not been seen since their abduction on 26 November. The other day I accompanied a friend of mine to an Iraqi police station. He was detained there for a couple weeks for no reason. It might sound odd that he was held while innocent, but that is how things are done in Iraq. Iraq is a place where the police are not always your friends. People here fear them for good reasons. Some police are responsible for kidnappings and murders. Many Iraqis arrested are innocent. The police are notorious for torture and abuse, and the prison conditions are poor. I asked my friend if the police abused him or tortured anyone while he was in jail. My friend said no, the police treated everyone well but he did meet some prisoners who were tortured in the summer, their bodies still scared or deformed. According to these prisoners the police tortured and abused them on a regular basis until the US forces stopped them. The story goes that US soldiers were visiting the station when they heard the screams of a prisoner being tortured. They entered the room where the torture was taking place, took the man off the walk and took away the badges of the police in the room. To make sure the police don't continue abusing prisoners, the US forces now inspect the police station every couple days. Yet the conditions are still poor. My friend said the cells are cold, dirty and over crowded. He told me that he slept on a thin foam mattress on the floor with another prisoner. Because the cell was so crowded the only available place for them to sleep was near the toilet where the floor was wet and dirty from people constantly walking in and out. My friend said he believed about two thirds of the prisoners there were innocent. The day my friend and I went to the police station, the police had asked him to come back simply to go over a few matters. To be on the safe side my friend asked me and another CPTer to go along with him. What made the trip interesting was while we waited in the reception area, a policeman walked by that my friend knew from his stay in jail. When the two saw each other, they shook hands and kissed each other on the cheeks three times like old friends in Iraq do. My team mate and I laughed. This was not something we expected to see, especially considering the reputation of the police. I asked my friend why he kissed the policeman. My friend replied that while he was in jail the policeman treated him with respect. He said there were several there who did the same. Our work at the police station was short. The policeman who called my friend in was uncomfortable seeing my team mate and I, so business was handled quickly and we went on our way. My friend was glad to leave. He was grateful that they hadn't arrested him again without any reason. That was how it happened the first time; they called him up and wanted to talk to him about something he had seen. Two and half weeks later they let him go home.

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