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BAGHDAD, Iraq — There are about 5,000 people in U.S. custody around Iraq, falling into three main categories, each with different rights and court procedures, U.S. officials said Monday.

“About 75 percent of the prisoners are civilian criminals,” caught by coalition and Iraqi police since the war’s end, according to Brig. Gen. Janice Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade from Uniondale, Long Island, N.Y.

Some of those criminals may have been among the tens of thousands released by Saddam Hussein right before the war, “but we can’t tell which ones are repeat violators” because the records have all been destroyed, Karpinski said.

A second category of detainees, about 200 men, includes “enemy prisoners of war,” the military’s current moniker for POWs.

The EPWs, who are being held at Umm Qasr, are in custody because “they are people still suspected of crimes against the coalition or war crimes; possible witnesses to war crimes,” or Iraqis who ranked so high in the Baath party that intelligence officials believe they may still have important information, said Col. Marc Warren, staff judge advocate for Combined Joint Task Force 7, the U.S. military operation in Iraq.

The third category of detainees includes those thought to be a “security risk — who have engaged in violence against the coalition or aiding and abetting violence,” Warren said.

“Their motivation is political,” not simply common crime, he said.

The different categories of prisoners have different rights under international law, Warren said. Legally, all of the prisoners fall under either the Third or Fourth Geneva Convention.

The Third Convention regulates the rights of EPWs and is the most stringent, he said. Despite President Bush’s May 1 declaration that major combat operations in Iraq are over, there has been “no cessation of hostilities, so the coalition still has the legal right to retain EPWs,” Warren said.

The Fourth Convention, also known as the “occupation convention,” governs the legal treatment of both the civilian criminals and the security detainees.

Iraqi courts, which are only now getting back on their feet, try civilian criminals: those guilty of Iraqi-on-Iraqi crime, Warren said.

The first two Iraqi courts opened in Baghdad on May 8, Warren said. So far, about 25 investigative judges, 15 felony judges and eight misdemeanor judges have come back to the bench in Baghdad.

“We’ve had a few trials, not as many as we’d like,” Warren said. “There is a backlog [of prisoners], inadequate numbers of police investigators, and other challenges that mean, in many of these cases, people have been held [without trial] for a long time.”

The release procedures for the security detainees are different, and involve a review process by the judge advocate; the right to appeal every six months for appellate review, and a standard that says detention must not be “arbitrary or capricious.”

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