August 17, 2005

US deploying paratroopers at Iraq prisons

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military will send 700 Army
paratroopers to Iraq to help provide security at detention
centers, officials said on Wednesday, as it prepares to open a
fourth major prison and eventually leave the Abu Ghraib jail,
the site of last year's prisoner abuse scandal.

An infantry battalion from the 82nd Airborne Division,
based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, will go to Iraq over the
next two months on an open-ended deployment to help provide
security at the U.S.-run detention facilities, defense
officials said.

"There's an expansion in the detention operations going
on," said Air Force Lt. Col. John Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman
on detainee issues.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last month the
longer-term plan was to turn over responsibility for the
detainees to the Iraqi government.

The prisoner population doubled from last fall to this
spring amid a series of offensives against the Iraqi insurgency
and a greater role by Iraqi security forces.

The U.S. military is enlarging its three main detention
facilities in Iraq -- Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad,
Camp Bucca in the southern desert close to the border with
Kuwait, and Camp Cropper near Baghdad international airport,
home to "high-value" prisoners, officials said. The expansion
of the other facilities in part is in preparation for ending
the use of Abu Ghraib, officials said.

The United States faced international condemnation last
year following revelations of sexual humiliation and physical
abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. More recently,
human rights activists have expressed concern about possible
new abuses as the detainee population in Iraq rises.

Late next month, the U.S. military is also expected to
complete a new detention facility called Fort Suse to hold
2,000 detainees at a Russian-built former military barracks
near Sulaimaniya in northern Iraq, officials said.

There now are about 12,000 prisoners jailed in U.S.
military detention facilities in Iraq, officials said. About
10,800 are at Abu Ghraib, Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper, with the
rest detained at smaller facilities operated by various U.S.
military brigades and divisions, officials added.

The paratroopers might serve in a site-protection role at
the main prisons, provide security in transporting prisoners
from one place to another, Army officials said, while a small
number could serve as prison guards.

Defense officials said the deployment was not a sign U.S.
forces are over-burdened by a growing prison population, and
maintained that sending paratroopers to assist in detention
operations should not be seen as unusual.

Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman, said the
paratroopers had undergone training at Fort Bragg to prepare to
work in detention operations.

About 6,000 detainees are held at Camp Bucca, which is
being expanded to house 1,400 more, officials said. There are
about 4,000 detainees at Abu Ghraib, which was expanded to
house another 800, officials said. Camp Cropper holds about 100
detainees and is being expanded to hold 2,000.

The Pentagon offered no timetable for turning over
responsibility for the detainees to the Iraqi government.

"We've been engaged with the Iraqi government on the
process of having them ultimately assume control of detainees.
We have a planning team that is meeting regularly to work
through the details," Skinner said.

Rumsfeld, during his visit to Iraq on July 27, said the
United States was asking Iraqi leaders to provide people to
train and equip for operating detention facilities. Rumsfeld
said he would like to hand responsibility for detainees to the
Iraqi government "as soon as is feasible."