US to close down Abu Ghraib prison

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The Independent US

Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi prison that became a byword for torture first under Saddam Hussein and later under the American occupation, is to close. Its 4,500 prisoners will be moved to other jails inside Iraq, a US military spokesman said.

The prison on the outskirts of western Baghdad was infamous under Saddam as a place where political prisoners and other inmates were tortured and executed. But after the US took control it gained worldwide notoriety with the emergence of thousands of graphic photographs showing US troops abusing, torturing, and in some cases apparently killing Iraqi prisoners, leaving a permanent black mark on the reputation of America.

"We will transfer operations from Abu Ghraib to the new Camp Cropper once construction is completed there," Lieutenant-Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry, said. "No precise dates have been set, but the plan is to accomplish this within the next two to three months."

The US military said the main reason for the shift of prisoners from Abu Ghraib was security. Abu Ghraib is located on the main road to Jordan, close to both Fallujah and Ramadi and within the Sunni triangle. The area surrounding the prison is considered a stronghold for insurgents. The prison has often come under attack from small-arms fire and mortars. They said the prison had been difficult to support logistically.

Officials also said Camp Cropper would provide better conditions for detainees than the old and sprawling Abu Ghraib complex.

Camp Cropper is a detention facility inside the Baghdad airport compound that holds 127 "high value" detainees, among them Saddam Hussein.

Human rights campaigners said they were more concerned about the treatment of prisoners than where they are being held. Neil Durkin, a spokesman for Amnesty International, said: "There are more than 14,000 detainees being held in Iraq by the US without charge or trial. This is the most important issue to us."

Under Saddam's regime an unknown number of prisoners, mainly Shias, were taken to Abu Ghraib where they faced torture or execution. Most of the executions were on a Wednesday and relatives collected the bodies the following day. Often they would be given the bodies only if they paid for the bullets used to execute their loved ones.

Many prisoners were hanged, among them the Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft, who was executed in 1990 after being accused by Saddam of spying. The gallows chamber has a ramp rather than steps. This was apparently to prevent prisoners struggling as they realised they were approaching the gallows.

After the US and British invasion, there were suggestions that the prison should be turned into a memorial site for those who had been killed. Instead, the US used it to hold thousands of prisoners accused of being insurgents.

The treatment of those prisoners and the paucity of evidence used to hold many of them was revealed by investigations triggered by the emergence in spring 2004 of thousands of photographs showing US troops abusing and sexually humiliating naked and hooded prisoners. Among the most infamous pictures were images showing the US reservist Lynndie England leading a prisoner on all fours as if he were a dog.

The low-ranking soldiers who were convicted of abuse claimed they were following orders by military intelligence to soften up prisoners before interrogation. No blame was attached to senior officers or civilian officials although there is convincing evidence of the impact of new guidelines for interrogating prisoners issued by the Bush administration after the attacks of 11 September.