U.S. to Close Infamous Abu Ghraib Prison

ByABC News
March 9, 2006, 6:47 PM

BAGHDAD, March 9, 2006 — -- The abuse scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison was a major setback to the effort to win hearts and minds in Iraq. Now the U.S. military is trying to turn the page by closing down its operations.

By June the more than 4,000 prisoners in perhaps the most infamous prison in the world will either be transferred or released.

"We do have plans and are in the process of building other facilities to move detainees who are under U.S. control out of Abu Ghraib," said Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Thursday.

Many will be moved to Camp Cropper, a high-security prison near the Baghdad airport, which holds, among others, Saddam Hussein, himself a part of Abu Ghraib's ugly history. Hussein allegedly tortured prisoners at the prison -- built by British contractors in the 1960s -- and stories abound of his using detainees for macabre experiments to further his biological and chemical weapons programs.

But it was only after photographs of prisoner abuse were published two years ago in the New Yorker and shown on CBS's since-canceled "60 Minutes II," that Abu Ghraib became a symbol of American imperialism and hypocrisy for many in the Muslim world. Many experts also speculate the photographs fueled the insurgency.

"Abu Ghraib was a symbol of torture under Saddam Hussein, and unfortunately, it became a symbol of torture under the U.S. military," said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

In response, President Bush set plans in motion to close the prison.

"Detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then, with the approval of the Iraqi government, we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison, as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning," Bush said during a May 2004 speech.

But today, U.S. officials said the prison would not be torn down but given to the Iraqi government, which will decide what to do with it.

Yesterday, in the daily Baghdad newspaper, Rawsho Ibrahim, Iraq's deputy justice minister, said that Abu Ghraib would be transformed into an Iraqi military base.

Twenty-five American soldiers have been prosecuted for their role in the Abu Ghraib scandal, and nine brought to justice -- either through convictions or plea agreements. But the prison continues to haunt the United States here in Iraq and elsewhere.

Just last month, more photographs from the scandal were published here, further inflaming anti-American sentiment. And this week an Amnesty International report, "Beyond Abu Ghraib," accused the U.S. military of continuing to deny detainees due process of law and basic human rights

Some wonder how much moving these prisoners from Abu Ghraib will make a difference. Human rights groups argue the real issue is not the place.

After all, a year before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, the Red Cross told the Pentagon about prisoner abuse at Camp Cropper.