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Reopened Abu Ghraib Prison Haunted by its Past

by Matt Clarke

On February 21, 2009, Iraqi officials reopened the most infamous icon of human rights abuses under two different governments – the Abu Ghraib prison. Located near western Baghdad on 113 hectares of land, the immense prison complex now boasts a barber shop, recreation yard, playground for children visiting prisoners, modern health and dental care facilities, and a mosque. Greenhouses are being constructed.

The facility has been spruced up, repainted and renamed Baghdad Central Prison. The hooks and wires – reminders of its tortured and torturous past – have been removed from the walls, and the resulting holes have been patched over. Stains have been cleansed from the blood-soaked concrete. The prison smells of fresh paint, sanitizer and cleaning agents. Signs posted throughout the facility read “Respecting the dignity of the detainees is one of the noble goals of the Iraqi correctional services.”

When U.S. forces invaded in 2003, Iraqis told them of torture and wholesale murder by Saddam’s minions at Abu Ghraib, which had been built by British contractors in the 1960s. Instead of demolishing this symbol of oppression, the U.S. military instead decided to use it for their own purposes. This served to encourage the Iraqi resistance and made the prison the hated symbol of the U.S. occupation.

The widely-distributed photos of American guards abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which were disclosed in April 2004, certainly didn’t help matters. [See: PLN, May 2006, p.14]. Twelve U.S. soldiers were convicted in the ensuing investigation, including Charles Graner, who received a 10-year sentence. Abu Ghraib was closed by the U.S. military in 2006 and its 4,500 prisoners were moved elsewhere. Even today, the Obama administration has refused to release most of the photographs depicting abuse at the infamous prison.

Ignoring objections from Iraqis who had been tortured by U.S. forces at Abu Ghraib, and lured by the potential to add much-needed beds to the overcrowded Iraqi prison system, Iraqi officials have now reopened the facility.

The problem is that Abu Ghraib has become something much larger than a mere prison complex. It’s as if the Germans had suddenly decided to incarcerate their prisoners at Dachau or Auschwitz. [editor’s note: The Polish government is sending prisoners to Auschwitz, see the news in brief for details.] Abu Ghraib should only survive if it, like Auschwitz, serves as a museum to preserve evidence of the magnitude of man’s inhumanity to man.

Otherwise it should be razed to the ground.

Sources:, Reuters,, UPI

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