Support: February 28, 2005

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In response to the Abu Ghraib prison problems, the U.S. Army is forming a prison guard brigade, which will have seven battalions and some 5,000 troops assigned. The brigade will support 35 internment and resettlement organizations ("corrections operations"), all of which will established by 2008. The military corrections officers will be trained to operate like the military police who have long run the armys military prisons. 

The army trains its military police to handle prisoners of war. But when the army went into Iraq in 2003, they quickly discovered that the Iraqi police were not the ones who kept the peace. No, Saddam controlled the streets via several hundred thousand full time security and intelligence troops, secret police, and many part time thugs who administered instant punishment to any civilians they caught disrespecting the Big Guy. That organization could not turn around, welcome the American troops and offer their services. Not unless they wanted themselves to be arrested for war crimes. 

To make matters worse, Saddam had emptied his prisons of some of the worst criminals in late 2002. Saddam was not a big believer in incarceration. He would regularly kill excess prisoners when the jails became too crowded. Most of those killed were political prisoners. The real criminals were often useful to Saddam, either doing his dirty work, providing tips on which Iraqis were anti-Saddam, or sharing their profits with Saddam. So what if many of those released were murderers and rapists? Saddam used murder and rape to terrorize the Iraqi population. The American military had to use a more civilized approach. So the U.S. Army set up 32 prisons and internment centers. To date, the troops arrested 65,000 Iraqis, and, after initial interrogation, 30,000 were put in jail. Many were subsequently released, but not before some were mishandled by the American troops guarding them. With so many new prisons to staff, troops were assigned to the duty with minimal training. Many of the Iraqi prisoners were not docile either. Lots of hard core Saddam supporters were in there, and they did their best to make life miserable for their guards. 

In an attempt to avoid another Abu Ghraib, everyone assigned to these new prisons will receive a special 55 hour block of instruction on how to handle detainees. This is being done now, with teams of trainers going to detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan to make sure everyone gets the instruction. But this is not the most important factor in avoiding another Abu Ghraib. Experience is, and the fact that more and more people arrested by American troops are being turned over to Iraqi run detention centers. 

Another major change is the disappearance of the desperate attitudes that pervaded the detention centers in late 2003, when the worst of the Abu Ghraib incidents took place. Back then, the anti-government attacks on American troops rose sharply, doubling in October and November, versus the previous six months. Good intelligence work, and follow up raids were bringing in lots of suspects, and some of them were giving up useful information. But not enough. There was a lot of pressure on the interrogators and military police to help the troops getting hit by more and more attacks. Trained prison guards would have been able to handle it, but some untrained reservists were not. So everyone gets the 55 hours of training, including officers and NCOs, before working in a prison. 

 


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