A Prisoner’s Tale


The saga of a hapless New Zealander who ended up behind bars after seeking work in Iraq reveals the darker side of the U.S.-led coalition’s operations.

When Andreas Schafer was released from a prison in Iraq earlier this year, the Iraqi police apologized abjectly for having inconvenienced him for three months. They made sure he knew that if ever he wanted to get back at the arresting officer by, say, slaying the man’s brother, it would be all right by them. And he could expect not to be prosecuted for the crime.

It says something about Iraqi justice and the American-led occupation that Iraq’s finest viewed an invitation to murder as a triumph of decency and due process. Schafer, a hapless, idealistic 26-year-old New Zealander who had gone to Iraq in search of a job with a nongovernmental organization, ended up languishing in a prison in southern Iraq as an unacknowledged prisoner of the U.S.-led coalition. By keeping Schafer in an Iraqi-run prison, rather than in a prison monitored by Americans or international observers, the United States avoided putting him on the books and having to account for his treatment, even to his own government.