U.S. hands over last Iraq jail but keeps 200 inmates
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military handed over its last prison in Iraq on Thursday, ending an ignominious chapter of the 2003 U.S. invasion that saw thousands detained without charge and triggered outrage after disclosures of abuse.
At a ceremony in a hangar at Camp Cropper detention center near Baghdad airport, U.S. military officials gave their Iraqi counterparts a giant, symbolic key and said they were confident no prisoner maltreatment would occur under Iraqi supervision.
They also acknowledged some past mistakes.
"To be perfectly frank we have learned from our experiences here," the U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Major General Stephen Lanza, told reporters before the handover ceremony.
"We have learned from our experiences here in terms of detainee operations and from our inability to be prepared for what we encountered," he said.
Nearly 90,000 people have been rounded up by U.S. forces in the last seven years as suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents or members of Shi'ite militia.
Never charged, they were held for months or years in prisons like Cropper, or Camp Bucca, a sprawling compound in the southern desert near Kuwait that was closed down last year.
Disclosures in 2004 that U.S. jailers had abused and sexually humiliated Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison on Baghdad's outskirts outraged many Iraqis and may have contributed to a growing insurgency at the time.
Several journalists, including a Reuters photographer and cameraman, have spent months in U.S. military detention without ever being told what they were suspected of.
The U.S. military lost the right to detain Iraqis under a bilateral security agreement signed in 2008 that paves the way for a full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Camp Cropper will remain open for at least two years under Iraqi control but will be renamed Camp Al Karkh.
Torture and abuse are commonplace throughout the general Iraqi detention service, where prisons are overcrowded and confessions are the basis of convictions rather than evidence.
But Human Rights Minister Wijdan Michael said she was comfortable with her ministry's ability to monitor prisoner treatment at Cropper and other former U.S. prisons.
The transfer of control meant an end to a system of military justice under which soldiers detained people for security reasons alone rather than for crimes, she said.
"Now there is some rule of law," Michael told Reuters at the handover ceremony, speaking in English.
"This is something that is very great for us, very historical for us, that we are changing the rule of all these facilities from American or foreign countries to Iraqi."
The U.S. military will not be out of the prison business entirely in Iraq.
At the request of the Iraqi authorities, U.S. wardens will continue to guard around 200 of Cropper's 1,500 detainees, including al Qaeda militants and henchmen of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
"Obviously there are former regime elements in this population, there are al Qaeda in this population, there are very dangerous detainees that have been identified in this population," said Major General Jerry Cannon, deputy U.S. commander of detainee operations in Iraq.
Neither Cannon nor Iraqi Justice Minister Dara Nur Addin provided an explanation for why the 200 had been singled out.
Eight of the 200 are former officials of Saddam's government who have been sentenced to death. Other Saddam confidants, including former Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz, have already been handed over to Iraqi prison authorities.
"Those who stayed with the U.S. forces might be handed over to us. Maybe they want to see the formation of a new government, maybe they will be handed over within days," Addin said at the handover ceremony. "The issue is not clear yet." (Editing by Angus MacSwan)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this