Peacekeeping: Doing Easy Time

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May 19, 2009: The U.S. has completed the training of about 2,500 Iraqi prison guards. This is part of the process where the U.S. is shutting down its own prison system, which held as many as 26,000 prisoners (in 2007). The U.S. is only holding 12,000 now, and is turning about 1,500 a month over to Iraq. The U.S. is also handing over its prisons.

The U.S. is trying to reform the Iraqi prison system. Most prisons in the region tend to feature brutal guards, lots of torture (some just to intimidate or punish, not extract information) and abysmal living conditions. Saddam's prisons were bad even by Middle Eastern standards. For example, when Iraqi prisons became too crowded, Saddam simply ordered the guards to take their least favorite prisoners out and kill them.

The U.S. training emphasized Western concepts of how you run a prison and treat prisoners. This is all alien stuff to most Iraqis, aside from the depictions of prisons they have seen in Western movies and TV shows. Some Iraqis have taken to these new (for Iraq) ideas, but many of the new prison guards are inclined to go along with whatever their supervisors ask of them. So far, this is not working out too well. The culture of corruption and cruelty in the Iraqi prison system is surviving despite strenuous American efforts to change it. Iraqi prisoners now consider their time in U.S. run prisons as the good old days.

 


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