BAGHDAD, Iraq — 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 in Iraq said on Thursday.
However, a Department of Defense official in Washington disputed that claim, according to NBC News, and said the spokesman’s remarks had been misinterpreted.
The Department of Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it has “ always been the long-term goal to eventually transfer U.S. detention operations in Iraq to the Iraqi government,” NBC News’ Courtney Kube reported. But that won't happen until the Iraqis improve their infrastructure and train personnel, said the official, who added that no date has been set for a transfer.
Reuters quoted U.S. military Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry as saying, “We will transfer operations from Abu Ghraib to the new Camp Cropper once construction is completed there. No precise dates have been set, but the plan is to accomplish this within the next two to three months.”
Curry is a spokesman for U.S. detention operations in Iraq.
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.
Meanwhile, construction to Camp Cropper, a detention facility in the U.S. military headquarters base at Baghdad airport, not far from Abu Ghraib, is under way.
It currently houses only 127 “high-value” detainees, among them Saddam. U.S. military officials say a purpose-built prison at Camp Cropper will provide better conditions for Iraqis detained on suspicion of insurgent activity.
More than 14,000 jailed
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.
NBC News' Courtney Kube and Reuters contributed to this report.