Rumsfeld, Myers Visit Abu Ghraib Prison
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait, May 13, 2004 The United States' top military and civilian defense officials saw firsthand today improvements being made at Iraq's Baghdad Central Correction Facility, more commonly known as Abu Ghraib prison.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers briefly toured a portion of the prison during a daytrip to Baghdad.
Before the tour, they both spoke briefly to more than 100 soldiers in the base's dining facility about the photos of prisoner abuses that have been widely broadcast and published in recent weeks. "It doesn't represent America, it doesn't represent American values; it doesn't represent the values of each of you," Rumsfeld said.
He told the soldiers those who perpetrated abuses will be brought to justice, so "the world will see how a free system, a democratic system, functions and operates transparently."
America isn't perfect, the secretary said to the soldiers. "But don't let anyone tell you that America's what's wrong with this world," he continued. "Because it's not."
Rumsfeld and Myers' party did not tour the portion of the prison in which American soldiers are reported to have mistreated Iraqi detainees, which is known as the "hardsite." The officials were given a windshield tour of Camp Ganci, a tented area that currently holds 3,200 detainees and has a capacity for 4,000.
Army Col. David Quantock explained the detainees live in 25-man tents. Quantock is commander of the 16th Military Police Brigade, which replaced the 800th MP Brigade, the unit whose soldiers appear in photos abusing prisoners.
He described some of the safety measures the prison staff has taken to ensure detainees' safety. Each tent is surrounded by sandbags stacked three high on all sides, and each cellblock has several concrete bunkers to protect detainees from mortar attacks.
Quantock said mortar attacks from outside the prison are one of the biggest threats facing the detainees. He was proud to report, though, that such attacks have stopped since a late-April attack that killed 22 detainees. He attributed the drop-off in attacks to "much more aggressive patrolling around the outskirts of (the city of) Abu Ghraib."
During Rumsfeld's tour of Camp Ganci, prisoners crowded the fences wherever the convoy of vehicles appeared. They were all dressed in civilian clothes ranging from sweatpants and T-shirts to traditional Arab garb. Guards appeared to stay outside the wire.
One group of prisoners held up a yellow sheet with, "What are you going to do about this scandl (sic)" written on it. Another held up a piece of cardboard with "help" scrawled on it. But during the official visit, no one got rowdy or out of hand.
Quantock explained there are few problems with the prisoners. Most behave as expected and even have a cordial relationship with the guards, he said. Each cellblock has a detainee "mayor" who helps resolve issues. Quantock said there are no special qualifications to be a detainee mayor, just "a good command of English" and a cooperative attitude.
Within the next week or so, the prisoners in Camp Ganci will be moved to the brand-new Camp Redemption. Rumsfeld and Myers toured the new facility as the finishing touches were being worked on.
Quantock explained the new camp will feature several improvements to make the detainees more comfortable. "We're going to do a lot better with this one," he said of Camp Redemption.
Camp Redemption will be covered in gravel; whereas Camp Ganci is all mud. Tents will have wooden floors, and prisoners will have cots in the new camp; neither amenity is available at Camp Ganci. And most importantly, Redemption will have electricity, and eventually, heating and air conditioning in the tents, Quantock said.
Only the most dangerous prisoners and those most valuable in terms of intelligence value are held in the hardsite, where the abuses are alleged to have taken place. Quantock said about 20 prisoners are housed there now.
The hardsite also houses the prison's only five women prisoners and about 1,400 Iraqi criminals, who are managed by the Iraqi corrections system. The women prisoners at Abu Ghraib are guarded by at least two female military police officers each shift to ensure modesty, Quantock said, adding that two of the female prisoners are set to be released in a matter of days.
The 16th MP Brigade, deployed from Fort Bragg, N.C., took command of the prison from the 800th on Jan. 31 before the prison-abuse scandal made its way to the media. Quantock said he had "been told there were problems" when his unit was transitioning.
He offered his own take on the issue. "It's all about leadership standards," he said. "And that's what we've been focused on every day."