Archive for Sunday, August 27, 2006

Abu Ghraib no longer houses prisoners, Iraqi officials say

August 27, 2006

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— The infamous prison at Abu Ghraib, scene of an abuse scandal that tarnished the United States' reputation worldwide and helped to fuel the growth of Iraq's insurgency, is now empty, Iraqi government officials have told McClatchy Newspapers.

The officials said U.S. authorities finished moving about 3,600 prisoners from the prison in recent days. Most went to one of two U.S.-run detention centers - Camp Cropper, near Baghdad International Airport, and Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. Some were released, according to one official, who works for the Ministry of Human Rights.

Justice Minister Hashem al Shebli confirmed Saturday that the prison is now vacant and that Iraqi army troops have been assigned to help guard the facility, which frequently has been the target of insurgent mortar fire.

Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a U.S. military spokesman for Detainee Operations, acknowledged that the United States had been moving prisoners, but wouldn't say if the task had been completed. "This transfer will allow us to consolidate our effort at fewer sites and improve the conditions for both the coalition guards and the detainees," he said.

The emptying of the prison marks a milestone for the huge stone structure whose name has long been synonymous with torture, first under the regime of Saddam Hussein, then under American occupation when photos surfaced in April 2004 of U.S. troops abusing Iraqi prisoners there.

Eventually, seven low-level soldiers were convicted of various charges, and the reserve general in charge of the facility was demoted and dismissed. A lieutenant colonel who oversaw the interrogation center was charged in the case only this past April, two years after the scandal broke.

But the Abu Ghraib abuse's greatest impact was no doubt symbolic. Many analysts believe the scandal helped draw recruits to Iraq's anti-American insurgency and helped fuel anti-American sentiment among Muslims throughout the world.

In June, Iraqi officials moved their 3,800 prisoners - mostly those convicted in Iraqi court - and placed them in prisons throughout the capital, Justice Minister Shebli said.

What happens next is unclear. U.S. authorities are securing the compound, several Iraqi officials said, and will eventually transfer it to Iraqi forces. Iraqi officials said that could be months away.

None of the Iraqis would speak for the record because no official announcement has been made.

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