Michael's Dispatches

Video: Iraqi Police Training: Cuffing Suspects

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Baquba, Iraq


The treatment of suspects and prisoners could be improved without sacrificing security. A professional police force can maintain safety without themselves engaging in behavior that would get the average person arrested. The secret is in the smallest of gestures. That’s where everyone notices the little things, and they remember.

Iraqi police often do not know how to use flex cuffs. They cinch the plastic too tightly. Unlike metal handcuffs, the plastic strips adhere directly to the skin around the entire circumference of the wrist, leaving no air spaces. When pulled too tight, they can become tourniquets, cutting off blood to the hands. The misuse I’ve seen time and again does not appear intentional; rather seems to arise from bad technique. Whatever the cause, the result is the same–suspects in serious pain, their families and neighbors witnessing this, until American soldiers re-cuff suspects so that their hands don’t fall off.

The problem depicted on this video occurred when an Iraqi Police officer cuffed a suspected insurgent over his sweater sleeves (too loosely), and then, another officer cuffed a different suspected insurgent so tightly that his hands were literally turning blue. Though I shot this video shortly after bombs and direct fire injured seven Americans, two American soldiers noticed the pain on the suspect’s face, and re-cuffed him. The video shows the difficulty in cutting-off too-tight plastic cuffs with a knife. Better to use wire cutters, or the keys that come in boxes with the cuffs.

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