Abu Ghraib Prison Closing, Prisoners Moving

The United States military says it will start moving thousands of prisoners out of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison to a new facility near Baghdad's airport. The goal is to hand over the facility to Iraqi authorities as soon as possible.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Here's an update on security at home and abroad. We start in Iraq where the notorious Abu Ghraib prison is passing out of American hands. The U.S. military will move its prisoners elsewhere and hand the facility to the Iraqi government.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Abu Ghraib was synonymous with torture and abuse during Saddam Hussein's day. The walled compound west of Baghdad was overcrowded and political prisoners were crammed in alongside convicted criminals. Saddam's son Qusay ran Iraq's internal security operations at the time and is said to have routinely ordered executions just to keep numbers down.

But scandal also marred the U.S. military's administration of the prison. Photographs first published in 2004 showed U.S. soldiers and guards abusing Iraqi prisoners. Some naked, some being threatened by dogs. The images fueled anti-American sentiment inside and outside Iraq.

President Bush wanted to have the complex destroyed after the abuse scandal became public, but an American military judge ordered it be preserved as a crime scene. Eight soldiers, described by President Bush as bad apples, were convicted of abuses.

A U.S. military spokesman says the 4,500 inmates held there for suspected insurgent activity will be moved to a new facility at Camp Cropper, a high-security complex near the Baghdad Airport. That's where Saddam Hussein and other high-profile detainees are being held. U.S. officials say living conditions will be better at the new complex.

U.S. officials say one of the reasons they're leaving Abu Ghraib is simply because of its location. It's regularly hit by motor fire and there's also been several prisoner riots and attempted breakouts. Leaving Abu Ghraib, however, is unlikely to diminish criticism of the U.S. It has more than 14,000 prisoners in four locations in Iraq, most in Camp Booker in the south.

Amnesty International recently issued a report accusing the U.S. and its allies of continued widespread abuse of prisoners in Iraq and detaining thousands without charge or trial.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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