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BAGHDAD — Improved human intelligence along with biometrics, careful screening of sworn statements and data on some insurgents that goes back years mean soldiers detain fewer innocent Iraqis and those who are held stay in jail, according to U.S. soldiers operating in Baghdad.There was a time when U.S. forces in Iraq rounded up large groups of young men suspected of being insurgents, and detentions were often made during raids in which soldiers smashed in doors before heading back to base with their quarry bagged and zip-tied.

“When we first went in there and things were very kinetic we screened a lot of people. Now we don’t do that as much. It is more selective. The Army can go back years in its files on detainees on occasions to determine if they are bad guys,” 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry (Stryker) Regiment commander Lt. Col. Rod Coffey explained last week.

The “surge” of U.S. forces in the Iraqi capital means insurgents there rarely challenge Americans to a direct fight. Recent detentions in Baghdad often involve soldiers simply asking people to accompany them back to base, he said.

“Eight out of 10 guys we are capturing are going to jail,” said 2nd Cav commander Col. John RisCassi. Tougher evidence requirements are one reason why so many of those detained are staying in jail, according to Coffey. After soldiers detain a suspect they often return to the point of capture, show neighbors a photograph of the person, and seek more information about them, he said.

“That way it is multi-sourced. It is not just coming out of one group of informants who might be trying to get back at somebody,” he said. Soldiers preparing cases against suspects want hard facts from informants, not hearsay, Coffey said.

“‘What did you see him do?’ is what we get down to,” he said.

Third Squadron intelligence officer Capt. Sam Davis said the evidence requirements are so tough these days that coalition forces regularly leave people on the streets who they know are insurgents.

“There are often times we know guys are involved in al-Qaida but we don’t apprehend them until we have sufficient evidence on them,” he said.

Cooperation from Iraqis is the major reason why soldiers can collect better evidence on suspected insurgents, he said.

“The enemy has got very smart. They will never be caught with a weapon if they can avoid it. They don’t stick around long enough for us to catch them in a direct fight. Most people we apprehend is because local nationals finger them, or they have IED (improvised explosive device) stuff in their house, or biometrics catch them,” he said.

Capt. Bryan Noel, a legal officer serving with 2nd Cav, agreed that human intelligence is the most important improvement to the Army’s detainee operations.“When we get sworn statements we can use that evidence to send these people to jail. We need two sources of implicating a detainee in a specific criminal or terrorist act,” he said.As security in Baghdad improves, the numbers of sworn statements and tips coming in from Iraqis is going through the roof, he said.“Doing these investigations and building cases against people is not a traditional skill set for the infantry guys. They have vastly improved their ability to do it. We are getting much more quality detentions,” Noel said.Davis said detainees have their cases reviewed within seven days by brigade commanders, and if there is not a strong case, they are released. If there is a case, the detainees are sent to a theater detention facility where more stringent reviews are conducted that can also result in release if there is not enough evidence, he said.

“I was involved in detainee operations during OIF I (Operation Iraqi Freedom I from 2003 to 2004). I saw a lot more innocent people detained then. It is much less likely now that someone innocent is detained and put in a detention facility, and if they are, they will be let back out,” he said.

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