WASHINGTON – The U.S. military has introduced “religious enlightenment” and other education programs for Iraqi detainees, some of whom are as young as 11, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the commander of U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, said Tuesday.
Stone said such efforts, aimed mainly at Iraqis who have been held for more than a year, are intended to “bend them back to our will” and are part of waging war in what he called “the battlefield of the mind.” Most of the younger detainees are held in a facility that the military calls the “House of Wisdom.”
The religious courses are led by Muslim clerics who “teach out of a moderate doctrine,” Stone said, according to the transcript of a conference call he held from Baghdad with a group of defense bloggers. Such schooling “tears apart” the arguments of al-Qaida, such as “Let’s kill innocents” and helps to “bring some of the edge off” the detainees, he said.
As a result of the increased U.S. troop presence in Iraq this year, the number of Iraqis in U.S. detention has swelled from about 10,000 last year to more than 25,000. The effort to reshape attitudes among the growing detainee population is aimed at addressing a problem that has vexed U.S. troops in Iraq for the past four years: Military detention facilities have served as breeding grounds for extremist views, transforming some prisoners into hard-core insurgents, according to military analysts.
Stone said he wants to identify “irreconcilables” – those detainees whose views cannot be moderated – and “put them away” in permanent detention facilities. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and interrogators help distinguish the extremists from others, he said.
After reassessments and interrogations, Stone said, some detainees are recommended for release. “If a detainee is an imperative security risk … then I’m going to reduce that risk and I’m going to replace that destructive ideology,” he said. “And then when he’s assessed to no longer be a threat, I’m going to release the detainee being less likely to be a recidivist.”
Since May, Stone said, he has released about 2,000 detainees “and we’ve not had any coming back.” He said his goal is to keep those who are released from harming U.S. troops or anyone else.
Other initiatives at the facilities include vocational training and basic education programs for about 7,000 detainees. Stone said he believes his approach is “compelling because it’s how you win this war, not only the one in Iraq, but the one on a greater basis.”
The 25,000 detainees now being held in U.S. facilities in Iraq include more than 820 juveniles, Stone said, most of whom are held in the House of Wisdom, which opened last month and is located at the Camp Victory military base near Baghdad’s airport.