EXCLUSIVE: Inside Iraq Detention Facility

U.S. Facility Camp Cropper Holds Prisoners Taken in the U.S. Troop Surge


BAGHDAD, July 21, 2007 —

The troop surge in Iraq has led to a surge of detainees, whose numbers have jumped from 16,000 in February to 22,500 now, U.S. military officials told ABC News today.

Tens of thousands of American and Iraqi troops have launched a series of raids in recent weeks, seeking out bomb-makers, sectarian killers and al Qaeda leaders in the capital and throughout central Iraq.

Many of the captured are brought to Camp Cropper, where ABC News recently became the first news organization to visit the high-security prison near Baghdad International Airport that once held Saddam Hussein. The majority of detainees in American custody are held at Camp Bucca, in southern Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have captured 123 detainees in the past 24 hours, 497 in the past week, and 1,166 in the past month.

"That's a little bit of a lift," said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the commander of U.S. military prisons in Iraq, said in a recent interview with ABC News at Camp Cropper. "Perhaps not as much as I would expect as we really start to rev up here."

The net increase comes as some prisoners are also being released at the rate of 224 over the past month.

To keep up, the U.S. military is expanding its prisons.

"We're comfortable in terms of the capacity," Stone said. "The most important thing is to get the right guy for the right reason."

One Iraqi detainee interviewed by ABC News, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, said he was wrongly accused of attacking U.S. troops and spent two years in American prisons.

Al Qaeda inmates, he said, used the prisons for recruiting and training young Sunni detainees to its cause -- a problem acknowledged privately by some U.S. military officers. One day, he said, he was simply released, without ever being charged or facing a judge. And there are still hundreds more prisoners waiting to be charged.

To handle the growing caseload, Iraq's government is now building a massive justice center with a new prison, courthouse and housing for judges and lawyers. It could take years to dig through the prisoner backlog.

The Iraqi prison system, which is expected eventually to take over control for all of the nation's prisons, has strained to handle the surge in prisoners. At Forward Operating Base Justice in Baghdad, 1,000 men crammed into an Iraqi prison designed to hold 300.

The prisoners eat simple food, such as plain white rice. The bathroom floor teems with backed-up sewage. One patient wore a makeshift bandage to cover serious wounds he said he received from a mortar attack.