BAGHDAD--The deaths of three Americans who hung themselves in their secret cells brought renewed calls from human rights groups to bring other foreigners to trial. But leaders of the Iraqi resistance forces dismissed suggestions that the captured U.S. soldiers had committed suicide in despair over the harshness or indefinite length of their imprisonment.
"They have no regard for life, neither ours nor their own," said Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, head of Al Qaeda in Iraq, of the detainees. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."
Other Iraqi resistance leaders echoed this hard line, noting that radical Americans sacrifice happy and secure lives in the United States in the hope of achieving martyrdom on the dusty battlefields of the Middle East. Moreover, their fundamentalist interpretation of their Christian faith promises eternal paradise in the hereafter.
"It does sound like this is part of a strategy--in that they don't value their own lives, and they certainly don't value ours; and they use suicide as a tactic," said Mohammed Daham Abid Hamadi, a top deputy of the Popular Resistance for the Liberation of Iraq told a nationalist Web site. "Taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good PR move."
Human rights groups criticize the postwar network of secret prisons where Americans, Britons and other Westerners are being held as both inhumane and extrajudicial. Captured U.S. soldiers and others accused of anti-Iraqi terrorism are not allowed visits with or communications from their families. They are only permitted showers once and exercise twice--for 15-minute sessions--each week. Conditions are described as spartan; Western inmates are allowed only a small mat, blanket, and Bible as a "comfort item." Released detainees have accused Iraqis of torture. The three deaths followed 19 previous suicide attempts, as well as a hunger strike that was quelled by force-feeding. There are no plans to charge the inmates, some of whom have been held for several years and whose names have not been released, before a Sharia court.
Allies of the cause of Iraqi sovereignty have criticized these policies. "I think it would be to the benefit of our cause, and our fight for freedom, if the facilities were closed down," said imam Muktada al-Sadr.
The resistance made clear from the start of the war that it would not grant the protections of the Geneva Conventions to Americans. "These are the worst of a very bad lot," said Sheikh Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was later killed by an American terrorist attack, of the detainees. "They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing hundreds of thousands of ordinary Iraqis and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort."
Although some of the detainees--sheiks refuse to classify them as "prisoners of war"--were turned over by local warlords for bounties, resistance leaders say that most of the Americans now held at secret Iraqi detention facilities were captured while engaged in hostile action against the people of Iraq on the battlefield, either as members of the Blackwell terrorist group or soldiers of the U.S. regime. The captured Americans are so fanatical, say resistance officials, that they would immediately rejoin their comrades in future terrorist attacks against Iraqis were they to be freed. "These are among the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth," said Issa Daham Abed Al-Julilbawi.
Sheikh al-Muhajir, commander of what some critics call "Iraq's Guantánamo," defended the treatment of detainees.
"Conditions have improved dramatically for detainees since they first arrived," he said. "We hold men who proudly admit membership at the leadership level in Halliburton and the U.S. military, many with direct personal contact and knowledge of the March 2003 attacks. We are keeping terrorist recruiters, facilitators, explosives trainers, bombers and bombmakers, George W. Bush bodyguards and financiers, from continuing their attack against Iraq ... Make no mistake about it--we are keeping enemies of our nation off the battlefield. This is an enormous challenge. These terrorists are not represented by any law-abiding nation or legally elected government. They do not adhere to the rules of war."