Lion's Dawn - Detainees are Released
I wrote the text below on August 10, 2009. Now, a year and a half later I am finally getting around to posting it on my website. The very moving ceremony desribed below was the first of many Lion's Dawn events I was involved in. At some point during the time I was in Iraq rules were changed and photography was permitted during the ceremony, withing certain guidelines. The pictures are from August 2008 during the only ceremony before the rules became strict again. Summary: the pictures and text are from two different ceremonies; I'm not trying to confuse anyone!
Yesterday morning was very interesting.
Each month there is a release ceremony for detainees who are sent home from the detention facilities here. The event is called Lion's Dawn. (The Iraqis seem big on "lion" things.) I helped set up one when I was here in May, but all I saw then was the rehearsal, and I left before the actual event.
Yesterday morning I was on site about 6:45 to make sure the sound system was installed and working. Family members of the detainees arrived about 9:30. They seemed quite solemn. At 10:00 the detainees were escorted into the room. This was the first time family members had attended a Lion's Dawn event. It was interesting to see the faces of both the family members and the detainees as they recognized each other.
I learned later that the family members were not told their sons, husbands, brothers were being released until just a few minutes before they arrived. They had been given a cover story to protect operational security. The detainees already knew, of course, that they were leaving, but only found out moments before entering the auditorium that they would be with family members. Some very smart person sent the young kids to sit with their fathers, brothers, uncles.
I actually recognized a few words in the long speeches from the 12 hours of Arabic language classes I had in Texas, but of course I really had no idea what they were talking about. Still, you could tell that everyone was very excited and happy. Several members of the Arab media were there to cover the event. They interviewed quite a few happy families. I was well in the background of some of the camera shots, so maybe I made it on TV in this part of the world.
There are several levels of detainees. Some are true criminals or terrorists who have either been convicted or are being held for trial. They will not likely (ever) be released. There are a number of detainees who were literally at the wrong place at the wrong time and were picked up. If they are not immediately released these guys still take several months to get processed and back out of the system.
In between these two groups of bad guys and good guys are a lot of people who get retraining from moderate imams (Muslim religious leaders/teachers), education completion (70 percent of the society is illiterate - rather sad since this is where the first known writing appeared), and swear an oath to uphold the new government. Then, once they have someone from their home community guarantee their good behavior they are granted amnesty and processed for release. The Iraqi government is willing to grant amnesty to all but the worst so they can move one. It seems like a good idea and almost all of the released men have stayed out of trouble.
There is a lot of good training and retraining going on, with progressively more and more of it being Iraqi-led. The idea, of course, is to get them genuinely self-sufficient and send us home. So far this year more detainees have been released than in all of last year and that trend should continue.
Interestingly, the United Nations ruling that provides the international authority for Americans to detain civilians in Iraq expires the end of the year. If it is not extended or reinstated in some way then we may essentially simply have to let a surge of bad guys out the door. The US and Iraqi governments are currently working on a Status of Forces Agreement similar to what we have with Germany and Turkey to cover this and other issues. The big issue seems to be that we want soldiers who get in trouble to be tried by the military and the Iraqis don't want to give up that part of their authority.