Americans Work With Iraqis To Close Prison Camps

Tahreer Yousif Hameed i i

Tahreer Yousif Hameed is waiting to visit her 20-year-old son. He has told her he expects to be released in about a month. Courtesy: U.S. Army hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy: U.S. Army
Tahreer Yousif Hameed

Tahreer Yousif Hameed is waiting to visit her 20-year-old son. He has told her he expects to be released in about a month.

Courtesy: U.S. Army
Families wait at Camp Cropper i i

Families wait in the Camp Cropper visitation center to see detainees. They're permitted one visit per week. Courtesy: U.S. Army hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy: U.S. Army
Families wait at Camp Cropper

Families wait in the Camp Cropper visitation center to see detainees. They're permitted one visit per week.

Courtesy: U.S. Army

As American forces prepare to wind down their role in Iraq, they're also working to close down the prison camps that once held as many as 26,000 inmates — most of them accused of involvement in terrorism or sectarian violence.

U.S. commanders say they're releasing as many as 50 detainees a day, with plans to turn the hardest-core of extremists over to a revamped Iraqi prison system.

Many of the prisoner releases take place at Camp Cropper, a prison that's part of the sprawling American military base on the outskirts of Baghdad. It houses more than 3,000 detainees, and it's also a training center for Iraqi corrections officers.

At midday, the new shift of guards marches into the compound, pacing in time to their chant, which says, "We resisted the terrorists, fought and defeated them. We are with you, Iraq."

American officers at the facility have high hopes for these newly trained guards, betting that they'll eventually change an Iraqi prison system that has been repeatedly condemned for poor conditions and human rights abuses.

The guards pass by another innovation of the American system, a visitation center where family members wait to meet with prisoners. The center is a long room with a widescreen television blaring cartoons over a children's play area filled with toys. On one side of room there's a row of benches for waiting family members; on the other, a row of desks, where soldiers and interpreters greet the visitors and take biometric data to identify them.

Tahreer Yousif Hameed is used to the routine. She has been here four times before to visit her 20-year-old son, who was arrested in October in an early-morning raid on their home.

Hameed says she expects her son to be freed soon. "He told me that they're releasing 50 detainees a day," she says, "and God willing, he'll be among them about one month from now."

Hameed says her son was sent before an Iraqi court, which found nothing against him.

Brig. Gen. David Quantock is in charge of the military detainee program in Iraq. He says cases like Hameed's are part of the way the American military has been handling detainees since Jan. 1, when the status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government took effect. All newly arrested suspects must now go before an Iraqi court.

Quantock points out that even under the old system, the military was able to safely process and release thousands of prisoners.

"It seems to be hard to get this in the press, but last year we released 18,600 detainees. Only had 157 come back," he says.

Quantock credits that low rate of recidivism to the rehabilitation programs offered by the U.S. detention system, including education programs, health care, and religious discussions with moderate Islamic clerics.

He also says the system works because it separates the extremists from people who were not motivated by ideology.

"Most of our detainees were motivated primarily by two things — money, because they didn't have jobs, they needed to earn some money, or fear of retribution. I mean, if you're in a bad neighborhood, you join the local gang," he says.

As for the most dangerous inmates, Quantock says the U.S. is building a new prison in the northern town of Taji, which will eventually be turned over to the Iraqi government.

"At the end of the day, there's [4,000 to] 5,000 really bad guys. We want to put them behind bars, where they deserve to be," he says.

Quantock says the U.S. military plans to be out of the detention business by the end of this year, either by releasing inmates or by turning them over to what they hope will be a model correction system, run by Iraqis.

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