A solitary incident?

The AP reports on a September 10 raid on the Bedouin village of Habbariyah in western Iraq. In a dawn operation, the US Special Operations troops, swept down on the village, arresting and detaining 79 men and boys — nearly the entire male population of the village. Now, 6 weeks later, only 2 of the men have been released.

The U.S.-appointed mayor of Habbariyah and its deputy police chief believe the Americans rounded up so many men and boys to punish the village because of suspicions it maintains contact with desert smugglers or infiltrators from across the border, 80 miles away.

Of course, the military will neither confirm nor deny, and the remoteness of the village left the world in the dark about these events until last week, when

Misha’al Khalaf, an 11-year-old from the nearby village of Kasra, complained about detentions there. The day after the raid on Habbariyah, U.S. forces came to Kasra and took nine people into custody, including two of Khalaf’s brothers.

Is it possible that the entire male population of a town — people ranging in age from 13-81 — is involved in activities worthy of imprisonment? Or is this another example of the prohibited practice of “collective punishment”? Earlier this month, the Independent/UK reported that US troops were bulldozing Iraqi family farms and groves of fruit trees in retribution for the farmers’ refusal to inform on the resistance.

If these men have committed crimes, then they should be charged and tried. If there is not enough evidence to charge the entire village, then the men should be released and returned to their homes. Even if it cannot be determined which of these men may have been aiding “evil-doers”, detaining them all puts our side — the good guys — in direct contravention of Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Conventions, which states:

No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.

This report exposes an abuse occurring in two villages. How many more have we not yet heard about?