U.S. Military Detention Operations in Post-Abu Ghraib Iraq Cover

U.S. Military Detention Operations in Post-Abu Ghraib Iraq

Jeffrey Meriwether

Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2018, 178 pages

Book Review published on: March 22, 2019

The horrifying actions of U.S. service members during the Abu Ghraib scandal (2003-2004) were a black eye for the military. However, they paved the way for future successful detention operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Author Jeffrey Meriwether focuses on those successful detention operations in his book U.S. Military Detention Operations in Post-Abu Ghraib Iraq.

Meriwether begins by highlighting the inhumane treatment of detainees prior to the Abu Ghraib scandal. He relives the horrific incidents of abuse captured in well-publicized photographs such as the hooded detainee standing on a box with electric wires attached to his body, Pfc. Lynddie England holding a detainee with a collar and leash, and a detainee staring in horror at a military working dog. Meriwether then transitions to the subsequent actions the United States took to facilitate a successful detention mission in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He discusses key detention operations accomplishments such as changing doctrine, emphasizing the Geneva Conventions, and establishing rule of law (ROL) after the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Key military leaders such as Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner and Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone helped shape the future of detention operations. Gardner was an advocate for ROL, which consists of three categories: law enforcement, corrections, and courts with emphasis on the humane treatment of detainees. Stone was also an advocate of humane treatment of detainees. His premise of changing the detainee’s ability to think for themselves by empowering them with the ability to read produced a calming effect in the Theater Internment Facility by enabling them to read the Qur’an for themselves rather than ending up as a prime target for insurgency recruitment. As Stone stated, “the Qur’an was our best weapon.” This was a stark contrast to torturing detainees.

Detention oversight was also significant changed; the military intelligence (MI) community was no longer allowed to use military police (MP) and military working dogs to exploit intelligence collection. MP units no longer worked under the MI command within the Theater Internment Facility, and a general officer was required to oversee detention operations to ensure delineations of responsibilities between MP and MI personnel.

Detention operations were significantly lacking in doctrine. Gen. George W. Casey Jr. noted, “Our doctrine didn’t prepare these guys for what they’re dealing with.” Numerous field manuals were created or added into Army and joint doctrines. Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, now includes the detention mission and its link to counterinsurgency. FM 3-63, Detention Operations, and FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations, were published to ensure adherence to humane interrogation.

In 2006, the Department of Defense added a policy that entailed recognition and enforcement of the Geneva Conventions. This greatly assisted with ROL development. Detainee release boards were also established with the overall intent to release detainees in overcrowded internment facilities. Anonymous Iraqi officials and U.S. military officers would vet detainee case files to determine those who were deemed fit to return to society. It was a form of due process and a step in the right direction.

Meriwether spends a lot of time discussing the judicial/court aspect of detention operations. He stresses that there are significant challenges with incorporating ROL into doctrine. There is an enormous amount of “legalese” throughout the book, which made it difficult to digest. One minor error in the book is that Fort McClellan was formerly located in Alabama, not Virginia. I found the Great Law of Peace and the law of war diagram useful. There were numerous organizations Meriwether identified in this book; however, it was not clear who worked for whom. A command chart or diagram would provide clarity.

Lastly, Meriwether discusses variables that impact detention operations. The U.S. military detains people under the law of war, not the ROL. Under the law of war, the enemy is not punished for something they did; instead, the goal is to prevent them from becoming a future threat on the battlefield. Therefore, no courts or criminal proceedings are required. Additionally, status of forces agreements add a layer of uncertainty when trying to establish ROL.

U.S. Military Detention Operations in Post-Abu Ghraib Iraq is worth the read if you are in corrections, the intelligence community, or the military and civilian legal profession. This book is relevant to the security community as it challenges the reader’s thoughts as to whether torture works or if it compromises U.S. military strategy. In essence, how can we go to war over inhumane treatment with other countries if we disregard human rights ourselves?

Book Review written by: Patrick L. Cook, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas