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Detainee treatment serious business with Darkhorse battalion

26 May 2006 | Cpl. Mark Sixbey

Not all detainees are taken so easily.  For instance, suspected insurgents were taken into custody after they were found transporting the body of another insurgent killed while handling an improvised explosive device.

Marines of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment detained three men trying to cross an entry control point near the company’s firm base May 24.

“From what the Marines we had on post could gather, the men in the car kept saying their friend or cousin exploded,” said Staff Sgt. Gilberto Bernal, a platoon sergeant.  “After we started investigating, it turns out their brothers got detained yesterday and they’ve all been detained in the past.” 

The men were calmly blindfolded, handcuffed and led to a shaded room with mattresses and water until they could be transported to a detainment facility for further questioning.

“That’s how we treat them – firm, but fair,” said Capt. William Allen, the company’s commanding officer. “Even if we know they’ve done something wrong, we still use what we have back home in the American justice system, that everyone’s innocent until proven guilty and the Marines treat them with that kind of dignity.”

That dignity includes seeing to the detainees’ needs while they await a fair trial, Bernal added.  Water and meals, ready-to-eat are almost always on hand to ensure Marines attend to the detainees' needs.

“We give them medical attention when they need it,” said the 35-year-old from Burley, Idaho.  “These guys have been here all morning, so we’ve given them food, water and MRE’s. If they need to use the bathroom, they can do that.”

He said the Marines are also careful not to offend Arabic culture while handling the detainees.

“We make sure not to feed them pork or stuff like that,” Bernal added.  “It’s up to them if they want to eat it or not. We have to respect their culture even if they have no respect for us.”

Marines follow strict guidelines when handling suspected insurgents. 

“You can only do so much without hurting them,” said Lance Cpl. Jay Session, a machine gunner.  “If they’re cooperative, we don’t have to use too much force.” 

Session explained although we’re not particularly nice to them, the company does not tolerate unnecessary roughness.

“We don’t put zip ties on their hands too tight, but if they’re fighting us we’ll tighten them up,” said 22-year-old Session, from Los Angeles. “If they try to walk out, I’ll take them down, but I can’t beat them up.  I’m not going to do anything to get my battalion, company or platoon in trouble.”

“Consummate Professionals” is just one of the Darkhorse battalion’s many titles the Marines take to heart with every mission and outing, Allen said.

“When the Marines on the peninsula interact with the locals, whether they be insurgents or just Iraqis that live here, we treat them all with the same amount of respect,” said Allen, a 35-year-old from Woodstock, Va. “If we find someone who’s been involved in an attack on coalition forces, they’re handled with the utmost professionalism.”

The suspects were transferred to Camp Fallujah’s detainment facility later that day for a full investigation.  Allen said the long-term goal is to eventually leave the entire judicial process up to the Iraqi government.  In the meantime, it’s a matter of cooperation between coalition and Iraqi Forces.

“We have to have faith that the Iraqi justice system, as young as it is, will get up on its own two feet and start prosecuting these people,” Allen said.