“The closure of the Camp Bucca is a step forward in overcoming the dark memories of Iraqi detainees,” Shatha al-Ubousi, a member of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, told Niqash. “The humanitarian conditions at Bucca were always bad.”
In reports published over recent years humanitarian organizations and the local media regularly documented human rights violations committed behind Bucca’s walls, including detaining people without judicial charges, limiting detainees’ food and water, insulting religious beliefs, and forbidding detainees from communicating with their families for long periods of time.
In June 2008, 26,121 prisoners were held at Bucca, the highest recorded number of detainees in one U.S controlled prison. While the prison was under U.S control, British forces helped administer the camp.
The U.S army is now handing over the last prisoners to Iraqi authorities before transforming the detention centre into a military base in accordance with the security agreement concluded between Iraq and the United States.
“There are now 540 detainees left in the camp who will be handed over to the Iraqi government between 15 and 17 September after which the camp will be permanently closed,” David Quantock, deputy commanding general for Detainee Operations told Niqash.
Former detainees from Camp Bucca remember the harsh conditions that prevailed – from the hands of fellow prisoners as much as coalition guards.
Ahmad Jameel, who spent more than three years in Camp Bucca, told Niqash that al-Qaeda detainees, housed in an area called the Red Zone, “used to apply sharia law on other detainees… and subjected them to heavy beatings.”
With the closure of Camp Bucca American forces will now only control two prisons in Iraq housing approximately 9,000 detainees – the lowest in four years - having already handed over Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and Fort Suse in the north to Iraqi forces.
Detainees in U.S. custody are currently held at three facilities: Camp Bucca, Camp Cropper at Baghdad airport and Camp Taji, a new U.S $80 million detention centre located in North Baghdad that can host up to 5,600 prisoners.
With U.S prisons closing, American officials say that every detainee’s file is being thoroughly reviewed by coalition forces and the Iraqi government to determine whether the prisoner should be freed or detained by Iraqi authorities.
To date, the military says that 1,179 detainees have been handed over to the Iraqi government and 5,236 others released from Camp Bucca.
"We cannot keep all the people we have arrested. They are a large number and that is why we released some of them and handed over others to the Iraqi government,” said Quantock, adding that all prisoners will be handed over or freed before the end of 2010 according to the joint security agreement.
Some controversy has emerged in recent days over U.S vetting of prisoners after it emerged that an ex-detainee of Camp Bucca was responsible for an attempted bombing of the Iraqi foreign ministry August 19 that left scores of people dead.
Following the attack American officials were forced to defended detainee releases.
"We work very closely with the Iraqi government to ensure releases and transfers are conducted in a safe and orderly manner," Capt. Brad Kimberly, a spokesman for U.S. detainee operations, said in the statement.