Critics Say Detaining Suspected Terrorists' Wives May Backfire

Jan. 29, 2006— -- Since the beginning of the war in Iraq, there have been questions about U.S. troops' sensitivities to Islamic culture -- especially when dealing with women. Now there are new questions about a tactic the military calls leveraging.

For example, marines found weapons and explosives in a woman's house and wanted her to lead them to her husband. The military says this sort of intimidation is a necessary tool.

But internal military documents suggest it's taken a new turn: Detaining wives of suspected insurgents in hopes of getting their husbands to surrender.

"If they're being taken solely for the purpose of drawing their men out of hiding, it can even appear to look like hostage taking," said Jumana Musa of Amnesty International.

Internal Criticism

In a June 10, 2004, memorandum obtained by ABC News, a Pentagon intelligence officer complains about the detention of a 28-year-old mother -- still nursing her 6-month-old baby. She was held for two days even though the officer had concluded she had "no actionable intelligence leading to the arrest of her husband."

In an exchange of e-mails obtained by The Associated Press, an Army colonel suggests challenging a wanted man whose spouse was being held "to come get his wife."

Former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the former military police commander at the Abu Ghraib Prison where American troops were accused of torturing prisoners, said detaining wives of suspected terrorists has been a part of the war in Iraq. She was demoted to colonel after the Abu Ghraib scandal became public.

"The incidents I would be familiar with occurred in 2003, and there were at least a dozen -- perhaps 15 or 20," she said. "I wouldn't say it was a common practice, but it was a practice for the higher value detainees"

Karpinski said she knew of only one incident where the tactic worked and analysts warn the tactic has potential pitfalls.

"If this doesn't end up actually being something that give you a key terrorist, the risk is you're going to alienate a lot of Iraqis," said ABC News analyst Tony Cordesman.

The military says this sort of thing happens rarely and only when necessary. But the question of female detainees has been highlighted by the kidnapping of American reporter Jill Carroll. Her captors have threatened to kill her unless all Iraqi women being held are freed.

Karpinski, who was demoted after the Abu Ghraib incident, said she raised objections to leveraging with several of her commanders.

"It was one of the many issues that we raised -- that I raised -- with the head of the coalition task force, Gen. Sanchez," she said.