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Iraq justice system overwhelmed with detainees: US officials

[JURIST] Prisons and courts in Iraq [JURIST news archive] have been overwhelmed with an influx of detainees corresponding to the surge in American troops in Iraq over the last year, American advisers visiting Iraq said on Wednesday. Iraq's prison system does not have nearly enough beds to house all of the detainees in custody, nor does the court system have the ability to try all of the detainees in an orderly fashion. With 26,000 Iraqi detainees in custody, more than half are still awaiting trial. The Iraqi Council of Representatives [official website, in Arabic] on Wednesday approved an amnesty [JURIST report] that could free thousands of detainees, despite warnings from the Iraqi Justice Ministry that Iraqi prisons will still need over 10,000 additional prison beds. In addition to the 26,000 detainees held by Iraqi prisons, the Justice Ministry expects to receive a majority of the 24,000 Iraqi detainees held in American military prisons throughout the country.

Gen. David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Iraqi Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud and members of the Baghdad Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) [US Embassy backgrounder] briefed US Attorney General Michael Mukasey Wednesday during a surprise visit [JURIST report] to Baghdad. Gregory Shogren of the PRT said that Iraqi courthouses lack many basic necessities to run the justice system, including computers, telephones, law books and heaters. Shogren also said that Iraqi police officers routinely ignore court orders to release prisoners, adding to the already overwhelming burden placed on the Iraqi justice system. Last year, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross [official website] visited with Iraqi detainees held at Fort Suse, marking the first time the ICRC has been able to visit with detainees held at Iraqi facilities. The ICRC routinely visits with detainees held by US forces. The New York Times has more.

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