US says to close Abu Ghraib prison

By Alastair Macdonald
27 minutes ago

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military will close Abu Ghraib prison, probably within three months, and transfer some 4,500 prisoners to other jails in Iraq, a military spokesman said on Thursday.

The prison in western Baghdad was a torture center under Saddam Hussein before photographs of American soldiers abusing Iraqis there in 2003 gave it a new notoriety and made it a touchstone for Arab and Muslim rage over the U.S. occupation.

"We will transfer operations from Abu Ghraib to the new Camp Cropper once construction is completed there," Lieutenant Colonel Keir-Kevin Curry told Reuters.

"No precise dates have been set, but the plan is to accomplish this within the next two to three months," said Curry, the spokesman for U.S. detention operations in Iraq.

Camp Cropper is a detention facility in the U.S. military headquarters base at Baghdad airport, not far from Abu Ghraib.

It currently houses only 127 "high-value" detainees, among them Saddam himself. U.S. military officials say a purpose-built prison at Camp Cropper will provide better conditions for Iraqis detained on suspicion of insurgent activity.

The buildings at Abu Ghraib, including the original brick- built jail and surrounding tented camp that has sprung up under U.S. control, will be handed over to the Iraqi government.

At present, U.S. forces are holding 14,589 people in four jails in Iraq. More than half are at Camp Bucca, in the south.

The conviction of several low-ranking U.S. soldiers for abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 -- secured after photographs taken by the soldiers emerged in public -- failed to quiet anger among many Iraqis at the treatment of detainees.

Thousands of people are held on suspicion of guerrilla activity for many months. The United Nations and Iraqi ministers have complained that the system is an abuse of human rights.

The U.S. military cites its powers under a United Nations Security Council resolution to provide security in Iraq and says its facilities and procedures meet international standards.