U.S. handing over last American-run prison to Iraqis
BAGHDAD — The United States plans today to transfer to the Iraqi government the last U.S.-run prison in Iraq, another milestone in the winding down of the war but also dredging up memories of one of its most serious misdeeds.
A day before a ceremony to turn over Camp Cropper — a maximum-security prison on a U.S. military base near the Baghdad International Airport that houses about 1,700 detainees — an Iraqi government official said Wednesday that several former members of Saddam Hussein’s government, including Tariq Aziz, a Cabinet minister under Saddam who was often the public face in the Western news media of the regime, had been transferred to Iraqi authority.
The United States will retain control over about 200 prisoners, including some former members of Saddam’s government who have been sentenced to death, and some members of al Qaeda in Iraq and other militants, said Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq.
The United States is in the middle of a long process of reducing its troop levels in Iraq, to about 50,000 by the end of next month from about 165,000 at the height of the troop surge in 2007. The transfer of Camp Cropper is another step toward President Barack Obama’s vow to end the war, but one that comes with inevitable reminders of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison, as well The U.S. military today is transferring control of the prison at Camp Cropper to the Iraqi government. The U.S. military has also recently handed over many high-profile prisoners, including former Cabinet minister Tariq Aziz and several other members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, to the Iraqis. as lesser-known allegations of abuse at Camp Cropper in 2003 that were made by the International Committee for the Red Cross.
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 Nouri al-Maliki had been running a secret prison where officials tortured dozens of Sunni Muslims from northern Iraq.
Odierno said the U.S. had been working closely with Iraqis, training them to 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.
Aziz, 74, whose health is failing, was sentenced last year to 15 years in prison for his role in the executions of several Iraqis 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.
Aziz’s lawyer, Badea Araf Azzit, said that Aziz fears for his life now that he is in the hands of Iraq’s government.
Azzit said that Aziz had called him this week and said, “I am sure they are going to kill me.”