New Year Brings New Rules For Detainees In Iraq

Beginning January 1st, the U.S. will have new rules when it comes to detaining suspects in Iraq. The changes are part of the recently negotiated security pact between Iraq and the U-S. The Americans will begin handing over many more detainees to the Iraqi prison system. Also, the Americans will need permission from an Iraqi judge to hold a suspect.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

Now to Iraq, where beginning on New Year's Day, the United States will have to follow new rules when it detains suspects there. The changes are part of the recently negotiated security pact between Iraq and the U.S. The Americans will begin handing over many more detainees to the Iraqi prison system, and by next summer, the largest U.S. detention camp is set to close. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro begins her report in a classroom.

(Soundbite of a classroom lecture)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: An Iraqi trainer lectures a new batch of Iraqi corrections officers on the proper use of pepper spray under a new U.S.-sponsored program. And then here will eventually work in the Iraqi prison system, but for now, they're being trained on this vast U.S. military complex that surrounds Baghdad's airport.

General ROBERT KENYON (Brigadier General, Camp Cropper, Baghdad, Iraq): We're leaving.

(Soundbite of laughter)

General KENYON: And so our effort here is to transfer all of this over to the government of Iraq and the Iraqi correctional system, so that's where we're going.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Brigadier General Robert Kenyon runs Camp Cropper, the U.S. detention facility in Baghdad. Currently, the U.S. holds about 15,000 detainees here, and at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. General Kenyon says beginning on January 1st, when the new security agreement comes into effect, the U.S. will release detainees at a rate of about 1,500 a month. Camp Bucca will close this summer. But while America's detention operations in Iraq may be curtailed, they won't be over. The U.S. has just opened a new detention facility north of Baghdad, at Taji Air Base, where the most hardened criminals will be transferred. Camp Cropper will also remain open. The U.S. will still run both facilities. For the past five years in Iraq, U.S. forces have had a mandate to detain indefinitely anyone they've deemed a security threat. After January 1st, U.S. forces will still be able to capture and hold suspects as long as they first obtain a warrant from an Iraqi judge.

General KENYON: Whatever happens after 1 January has got to be evidence-based. And so those Iraqis that we maintain here will have to have an arrest warrant of some sort for us to hold them, and we'll hold them on behalf of the government of Iraq.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At one time, U.S. run facilities, like the now infamous Abu Ghraib were synonymous with abuse. Now massive overcrowding, allegations of torture, and ill-treatment are common in Iraqi-run prisons. It's such a concern that the New York based Human Rights Watch, has called on the Americans to make sure that any detainees who are transferred to Iraqi control in the new year will have their human rights respected. Many Iraqis are also worried.

(Soundbite of Arabic spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's Visitation Day at Camp Cropper, in Baghdad. Tearful women in long black cloaks hug and kiss the detainees, who are dressed in prison-issued dishdashas. The U.S. military allows visiting families to meet face-to-face for about 15 minutes, before they're separated behind a traditional glass barrier. Those held by the Americans can now sign up for computer, sewing, art and English classes. It's part of a new system to improve the conditions for the detainees in U.S. run prisons. Abu Ali(ph) has come to visit his 17-year-old son here. He says he's afraid of what could happen to his son if he's placed in Iraqi custody.

Mr. ABU ALI: (Arabic spoken): (Through Translator) We do not want them handed over to the Iraqi side. There are human rights violations there, torture. The American detainees should just be released, not handed over to the Iraqis.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Already though, 30 so-called, high value detainees - members of Saddam Hussein's regime, have been handed over to the Iraqis. So, too, have all the women held in U.S. detention facilities. What will happen to the remaining detainees isn't yet clear. General Kenyon.

General KENYON: What we'll do is we'll come up with a safe and orderly manner to release them all, because what we don't want to do is throw 5,000 detainees back in Anbar Province on one day, because that will create chaos.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But before the detainees can be released, their cases will have to be reviewed by a beleaguered and inefficient Iraqi judicial system where prisoners can sometimes be held for years without trial. One American detention official acknowledged that, we just don't know yet how this is going to work. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Baghdad. MONTAGNE: It's Morning Edition from NPR News.

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