Global Policy Forum

Transfer of Prison in Iraq Marks Another Milestone

The US handed over its last (non-secret) military prison in Iraq, Camp Cropper, to Iraqi officials on July 15, 2010. Custody over detainees has been one of the issues at the heart of the debate over the nature and extent of Iraqi sovereignty in the wake of US withdrawal and this transfer is certainly a step towards greater autonomy for Iraq.

By Tim Arango

New York Times
July 15, 2010

The United States plans on Thursday to transfer to the government of Iraq the last American-run prison, another milestone in the winding down of America's war here but also dredging up memories of one of its most serious misdeeds.

The United States will retain control over about 200 prisoners, including some former members of Saddam Hussein's government who have already been sentenced to death, and some members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other militants, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top United States military commander in Iraq, told reporters this week.

A day before a ceremony to turn over Camp Cropper, a maximum security prison on an American military base near the Baghdad International Airport that houses about 1,700 detainees, an Iraqi government official said Wednesday that several former members of the Hussein government, including Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister under Mr. Hussein who was often the public face in the Western news media of the brutal dictatorship, had already been transferred to Iraqi authority.

The United States is in the middle of a long process of reducing its troop levels here, to about 50,000 by the end of next month from about 165,000 at the height of the troop increase in 2007. The transfer of Camp Cropper is another step toward President Obama's vow to end the war, but one that comes with inevitable reminders of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, as well as lesser-known allegations of abuse at Camp Cropper in 2003 that were made by the International Committee for the Red Cross.

General Odierno reflected on that legacy this week.

"Abu Ghraib was a lesson that we weren't prepared to handle large masses of detainees when we came in to this operation back in 2003," he said. "We made some real errors in thinking that it would be like Desert Storm and we would just hold prisoners of war for a period of time and we'd release them."

He added: "We didn't properly anticipate a counterinsurgency which would require us to handle a large number of detainees for a significant amount of time. And frankly we weren't trained or prepared to do it. And we ended up having significant issues. But we've learned from it; we've moved on from that."

The Iraqi government has also abused prisoners during the war, and in April news broke that a branch of the security forces that answered directly to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had been running a secret prison, where officials tortured dozens of Sunni Muslims from northern Iraq.

General Odierno said the military had been working closely with Iraqis, training them to properly run Camp Cropper. "We have been working for a year on the turnover of Camp Cropper, so this isn't something that happened overnight," he said.

Mr. Aziz, whose health is failing, was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for his role in the executions of several Baghdad men for profiteering when the country was under international sanctions in the 1990s. He was acquitted on a more serious charge related to the killings of Shiite protesters.

Mr. Aziz's lawyer, Badea Araf Azzit, said in a telephone interview from Amman, Jordan, that Mr. Aziz feared for his own life now that he was in the hands of the Iraqi government.

Mr. Azzit said Mr. Aziz had called him this week and said, "It is necessary to see you, and you should come to visit me in the Iraqi prison. There are important matters I want to tell you. I am sure they are going to kill me."





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