Saturday, March 27, 2010

K-Max and Rusafa

Big part of the Boss's job involves the prisons and detention facilities in Iraq. Most, almost all either have been or are being turned over to the Iraqi government, like we did in Taji last week. The U.S. is working it's way out of the detainee business, but it's not an overnight process.

We spent a couple of days earlier this week visiting two Iraqi prisons. They both predate the invasion, so I can only imagine the horrific things that have gone on there.I don't like jails or prisons. Depressing places. 

The first one we went to is called K-Max. It's a maximum security facility in the northern Baghdad suburb called Khadimiya. It's a prison for death penalty convicts and prisoners with life sentences. In fact, it's where they executed Saddam a few years back, and more recently, Chemical Ali and other former regime guys. The second is in a suburb called al Rasufa. It's a prison for both convicted and pretrial detainees. 

We toured the both facilities, including the gallows at K-Max. Both are dirty, greasy places. Crowded, poorly lighted, poorly constructed, like most Iraqi places. Just nasty, filthy places, although I have no doubt that they are much better now than when it was under Ba'athist rule. Still, there's no mistaking them for anything other than third world prisons.

Prisoners are kept in cell blocks with a couple of dozen or so inmates to each cell. They had bunk beds, and were packed in pretty tight. Most of the cell blocks had a TV mounted on the wall. Lots of cigarette smoke in the air, along with all the other unlovely odors of a prison. There were isolation cells, and little caged exercise yards. At K-Max we saw a wing where older inmates are housed. We had seen some of them outside earlier, old men tending little gardens. Their wing, in marked contrast to the rest of the cell blocks, was pretty clean and orderly. The Boss even commented on how clean it smelled.

Rusafa was pretty bad, even compared to K-Max. Filthy, trash everywhere. A lot of the population are housed in tents, which U.S. forces built as temporary holding facilities. Temporary six years ago. The prisoners are crammed in these tents, which have cages or cells running along the outer walls and the tent fabric over it. It was bad. It's hard to feel sorry for these guys, but those were pretty rotten living conditions. However, they were well fed, had cigarettes, and a TV in each tent, and nobody was being tortured, so that right there is a big step up from the Saddam days. 

Security concerns were pretty high for me. There were lots of people at both prisons who were just...walking around. In the administrative areas, there were a lot of men and a few women in civilian clothes. It was tough to tell who was staff, who was some sort of official, who belonged and who didn't. Guys would walk into offices where the Boss and other people were to have a look around. I had some line MPs acting as a sort of PSD, but it was still not a controlled area, and I never really felt comfortable as far as the Boss's safety was concerned anywhere we went.

Inside the prisoner areas proper, there was less of an issue of miscellaneous rubberneckers, but the concern there was some of the inmates acting out, making an attack, throwing something (a urine-feces cocktail, anyone?) or otherwise endangering the Boss. We attracted a lot of attention, and inmates would gather at the bars of their cells to see what all the fuss was about. Nothing happened of any note, thankfully. 

We were toured around by the wardens of each prison, a State department guy, and some U.S. trainers. I didn't get their whole title, but basically these guys are former cops and prison workers, and are under contract for the Department of Justice, training and assisting the Iraqis. There were also assorted staff, associate and junior wardens, terps, and the dozen or so strap hangers we brought with us, so we had a pretty big tail. One of the terps was a MIG pilot in the Iraqi Air Force.

There are a lot of issues in dealing with these facilities, obviously. Some of, or more accurately, most of these issues, seem to arise from trying to treat the insurgents, terrorists, enemy combatants, pick a name, like criminals as opposed to war prisoners. At the al Rusafa prison, some of the prisoners there have been awaiting trial for up to seven years. A lot of these are guys either we or the Iraqis captured during the course of the war, and the paperwork either has been lost or never existed. With no real idea about the circumstances of their capture, no witnesses or evidence, it would seem like the only recourse would be to release them. However, no one is too eager to do that. These guys weren't picked up for jaywalking, so potentially very dangerous people could be back out there making mischief if released, and no one is too eager to accept responsibility for making that call. The Boss summed it up pretty well when he said, "Looks like we have left these guys a soup sandwich."

At one point, I was standing outside an office. Everybody else had gone inside to have a sit down meeting. One of the Justice Department guys walked past me and said, "That lady behind you? History."

I looked behind me, into a glass fronted office where I saw an attractive Iraqi lady at a desk, talking with a guy seated before her. She wore a headscarf and business clothes, and was maybe a little older than me. I wondered what she had done. Did he mean history, like she was getting fired, or what?

The Justice guy continued: "You're looking at the first female associate warden in Iraq. History. And, not only is she the first woman to have that job, she's twice as sharp as her boss." I had earlier noted to someone that the warden looked liked an oily scumbag used car dealer. The guy went on to say that he hoped someday she would be running the prison. 

The Boss met with as many people as he could. He spoke with a doctor at K-Max, a judge at Rusafa, the wardens, assorted officials, hearing everyone's complaints and problems. Some of them had legitimate issues, some seemed to have their hand out for money. There are a lot of issues to be dealt with. Some of them are pretty complex. Some are as simple as conducting a police call and picking up all the damn trash. Some will take our continued assistance. Most of them it will be up to the Iraqis to solve themselves. Are they up to it? I reckon time will tell.

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