BAGHDAD, Iraq,(AP) -Iraq’s government has formally taken over the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, site of an abuse scandal by U.S. soldiers, the U.S. military said Saturday.
Coalition forces transferred operations of the prison to the Iraqi Justice Ministry on Friday, said Lt. Col. Keir Kevin Curry, spokesman for detainee operations.
The Iraqi deputy justice minister had said the lockup was emptied on Aug. 15. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, confirmed that Saturday: “It is now empty of any detainees.”
Abu Ghraib came to symbolize American mishandling of some prisoners captured in Iraq, both during the U.S.-led invasion three years ago and in the fight to subdue the largely Sunni Arab insurgency since then.
Widely publicized photographs of prisoner abuse by American military guards and interrogators at the facility prompted intense global criticism of the U.S. war in Iraq and fueled the insurgency. The scandal led to a wide-scale investigation that resulted in convictions and dismissals against a number of U.S. soldiers.
Al-Dabbagh said the facility had become synonymous with abuse.
“This detention facility has witnessed serious violations and serious crimes during the rule of Saddam Hussein,” he said. “It has also witnessed human rights violations by members of the U.S. forces, who were tried. The media practiced its full role in disclosing these violations.”
Abu Ghraib was also a notorious detention center during Saddam’s days, when the former dictator incarcerated his political opponents. Right before the invasion, Saddam released thousands of inmates at the facility, including common criminals. The move was seen as aimed at spreading chaos after the military attack.
Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim told The Associated Press last week that the detainees at Abu Ghraib had been moved to a new $60 million detention facility at Camp Cropper, near Baghdad International Airport.
Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government is still deciding on what to do with the Abu Ghraib. It will be used “in a way that can serve the national interest,” he said, without elaborating.