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Bush to demolish Abu Ghraib prison

PTI | ByAssociated Press, Baghdad, Iraq
May 25, 2004 08:01 PM IST

President Bush's announcement that he would demolish the notorious Abu Ghraib prison drew few applause, with one official saying the decision should be left to Iraqis.

President Bush's announcement that he would demolish the notorious Abu Ghraib prison drew few applause Tuesday in Baghdad, and one senior Iraqi official said Iraqis themselves should decide what to do about the jail at the center of the prisoner abuse scandal.

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Bush told an audience Monday night at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, that Abu Ghraib prison, notorious for torture under Saddam Hussein and scene of prisoner abuse by U.S. troops, will be destroyed "as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning."

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Ahmed Hassan al-Uqaili, deputy chief of the Human Rights Organization in Iraq, dismissed Bush's promise as a Republican ploy "to win the (presidential) election in the United States." Al-Uqaili said the most important thing was to end the abuses committed by both Saddam's regime and the American guards. "The problem is not changing the location or the name of the prison," he told The Associated Press. "It's about the staff of the prison. Those people are supposed to be trained in human rights. Even if a person is a prisoner, he is a human being first who must be treated with respect and dignity."

Hamed al-Bayati, Iraq's deputy foreign minister and a senior official of a major Shiite Muslim political organization, said the decision to demolish Abu Ghraib "must be left to the new government" which Bush promised would take power June 30. "The recent abuses committed by U.S. troops against Iraqi prisoners have certainly contributed to conjuring up the idea of demolishing the prison," he said.

Interior Minister Samir Shaker Mahmoud al-Sumeidi said he understood Bush's desire to "remove the memory and the stain" of the prisoner abuse scandal.

"However, I personally don't think that the building in itself has a meaning either positive or negative," he said. "I would not remove it but would change the way it is managed." Last week, Spc. Jeremy Sivits received the maximum penalty of a year in prison and a bad-conduct discharge in the first court-martial stemming from the abuse of Iraqis at the prison. He was among seven members of the 372nd Military Police Company that have been charged.

U.S. officials announced in Washington on Monday that the Army general who was in charge of the U.S. prison guards at Abu Ghraib has been suspended from command of the 800th Military Police Brigade.

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski and other officers in her brigade were faulted by Army investigators for paying too little attention to the prison's day-to-day operations and not acting strongly enough to discipline soldiers under her command for violating standard procedures.

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