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Iraq to examine treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The interim Iraqi government is taking a closer look at the treatment of detainees locked up in the Abu Ghraib prison, Human Rights Minister Bakhityar Amin said Monday.

Amin said a team has been formed to inspect conditions inside the notorious American-controlled prison, where a prison-abuse scandal deeply embarrassed the U.S. military.

The ministry also will open an office inside Abu Ghraib, to be staffed by seven lawyers, two sociologists and a psychiatrist. Other ministry teams will regularly inspect other American-controlled detention facilities in Iraq, he said.

Meanwhile, the ministry is talking with American military officials about making more than a dozen improvements to Abu Ghraib and the other facilities, he said.

Iraqis were outraged by lurid photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing prisoners. The latest moves by the Iraqi government are intended to respond to public pressure to improve conditions for Iraqi detainees and to ensure more abuse doesn't occur.

The ministry's requests include seeking better food, clothing, sanitary conditions and medical care; opening a prison library; separating juvenile detainees from adults; separating Iraqi detainees from non-Iraqi detainees; and decreasing detention times.

"A number of these requests have been in the works for some time and steady improvements have been made in all of these areas," said Lt. Cmdr. Barry Johnson, the public affairs officer for the multinational force's detainee operations office. "We welcome the participation of the Ministry of Human Rights in this process, which is why we readily accept their involvement in the camp."

Amin said American officials have assured him that "horrendous and unacceptable" treatment of prisoners won't reoccur, and Iraqi monitoring of the prison so far has found no evidence that it has.

"Nothing of that nature has happened, to our knowledge," Amin said.

Ayad al Samaraee, the deputy chairman of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Muslim organization, said he backs the ministry's work but added that the Iraqi government can't be certain abuses aren't occurring until it controls Abu Ghraib and other American-run facilities. Most Iraqi detainees are Sunni Muslims.

"I support all the efforts to improve the situation, of course," al Samaraee said, but "the Iraqi authorities don't have people inside."

Having a ministry office inside Abu Ghraib is the "minimum" that should be done, al Samaraee said. He urged the Iraqi government to press for control of the detention facilities.

Also Monday, Amin said 209 security detainees—those considered threats to the government or multinational forces, as opposed to those considered to be common criminals—have been transferred to Iraqi courts since Iraqi sovereignty was returned.

Detainees still under American jurisdiction have been allowed regular family visits, he said. The ministry has contacted nearly all the detainees' families, and it has published in Iraqi newspapers the names of detainees whose families couldn't be reached.

Amin also said 99 non-Iraqi detainees are being held at Abu Ghraib and two other American-controlled detention centers. They are from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Palestinian areas, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon.


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.