Backgrounders

Iraq: Background on U.S. Detention Facilities in Iraq

(May 7, 2004)--Human Rights Watch has repeatedly tried to gain access to U.S. detention facilities in Iraq but U.S. military officials in Baghdad have denied requests for visitation rights. Human Rights Watch is able to have regular access to prisons and detention centers under Kurdish control in northern Iraq.

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According to information that Human Rights Watch obtained from the U.S. military’s database in January 2004, the U.S. is holding detainees at ten major facilities around Iraq. The largest is Abu Ghraib Prison, also known as the Baghdad Central Correctional Facility or BCCF. Two other major facilities are Camp Bucca in Umm Qasr and Talil Airforce Base south of Baghdad (also known as Whitford Camp).  
 
The other seven are:  
1) Al-Rusafa (formerly the Deportations’ Prison or Tasfirat) in Baghdad  
2) Al-Kadhimiyya in Baghdad (women only)  
3) Al-Karkh in Baghdad (juveniles only)  
4) Al-Diwaniyya Security Detainee Holding Area  
5) The Tikrit detention facility  
6) The Mosul detention facility  
7) MEK, or Ashraf Camp, near al-Ramadi  
 
The names and details (including identification number, date and place of arrest, military unit which carried out the arrest, place of detention, charges) of inmates held at these facilities are entered into a central database following initial interrogation and processing. The total number of detainees whose names appeared on the database on January 24 this year was 8,968, but the figures may fluctuate substantially from week to week.  
 
Additionally, there are a number of other detention facilities located in U.S. military compounds, used as temporary facilities for initial or secondary interrogation. These include facilities at Camp Falcon on the outskirts of Baghdad, and Camp Cropper located near Baghdad Airport. Security detainees have been held for up to a week during initial interrogation, and up to a month for secondary interrogation, during which time they have no access to relatives or counsel. Their names and details are entered into the central database only in the event that they are transferred to one of the ten major detention facilities listed above.  
 
In November 2003, the coalition authorities established General Information Centers (GICs) where families could seek information about detained relatives. The GICs are staffed by Iraqis under the supervision of U.S. military officers. In Baghdad, for example, there are nine GICs located in the following districts: al-Kadhimiyya, al-Karkh, al-Adhamiyya, al-Mansour, al-Rusafa, al-Sadr, al-Karrada, Tis’a Nisan, and al-Rashid. Once families obtain the identification number (also known as sequence number) and place of detention of their relatives, they can obtain a date for a visit. However, many families told Human Rights Watch that they have experienced prolonged delays in securing a date for a visit, in some cases for over three or four months. In most facilities, according to U.S. military personnel, the waiting period averaged one month. At Abu Ghraib, it was three months. Military officials told Human Rights Watch that they have insufficient staff at the prison and could not cope with more than a maximum of thirty visits per day. In al-Kharkh, the juvenile facility, the waiting periods for visits were said to be closer to one week.  
 
In January 2004, the United States was holding detainees from 21 different nations, including Algeria, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israeli-occupied Gaza and West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the UK and Yemen.  
 
Abu Ghraib is itself divided into a number of ‘camps:’ including Camp Ganci (with five divisions according to the seriousness of the crime); Camp Vigilant for high security detainees who are subdivided into “black, gray, and white lists;” a Medical Wing, and another camp for those “serving time.”  
 
MEK is the old Ashraf camp used by the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e-Khalq (hence MEK) which, according to the U.S. military, does not hold any Iranian detainees but Iraqis accused of serious crimes such as murder and rape.