Page 2 of 2   <      

U.S. Prisons in Iraq Nearly Full With Rise in Insurgent Arrests

Soldiers who guard detainees now work under strict guidelines. Soldiers from the 391st Military Police Battalion, which took over from the 372nd last February, have expressed little sympathy for the accused soldiers. Although they were not involved in the abuse, soldiers from the 391st and the 152nd Field Artillery National Guard unit -- brought in to help guard the prison -- found themselves in the spotlight when the scandal broke.

The military has also overhauled all of its detention facilities since the scandal, which highlighted the poor living conditions of both the detainees and the soldiers. Prisoners at Abu Ghraib now live in heated tents with electricity and have access to showers and to cold water in the summer. They also have extensive medical and dental care.

One night this week, detainees in yellow jumpsuits and winter coats and hats lined up at a fence for plates of hot food. Inside a wooden guard hut, U.S. soldiers crowded around a table and their own dinner: pizza and cheeseburgers.

"It's changed 100 percent for the detainees," said Staff Sgt. Mathew Quint, 40, of Houlton, Maine.

Quint, a member of the Maine National Guard's 1st Battalion, 152nd Field Artillery Regiment, said he was pleased that a military court last week gave Graner a 10-year prison sentence and dishonorable discharge. "He's trying to pass the buck," Quint said. "A soldier knows better."

During his year at the prison, Pfc. Christian King, 22, also of Houlton, said he had learned a lot about Iraq by talking to detainees. "The detainees from Baghdad don't really have that bad an opinion of us," he said. "The detainees from Fallujah tend to use it as their Alamo. They haven't been exposed to the good we've done. They've only talked to the insurgents."

King said the hardest thing he has had to do was forget that the detainees are accused of being insurgents who tried to kill American soldiers. "You have to put it out of your mind," he said. "Our job here is not to punish them, to take revenge. Our job is to protect them."

He and his fellow soldiers have been in the spotlight because other people "screwed up here," said King, who said he would resume his studies at the University of Maine when he got home. "The guys in my unit have done everything in their power to make this a better place."

Sgt. Michael Tantillo, 25, of New York City, one of the new replacement guards from the 18th Military Police Brigade, 306th Battalion, said he expected his job to be easier now that changes had been made and new rules were in place.

"These guys had it a lot harder," he said, gesturing toward King and Quint. Tantillo said that when he looks into the detainees' tents, he sees "a lot of innocent faces of war and a lot of killers."

"But it's not our job to judge them," he said. "It's our job to keep them there."

<       2

© 2005 The Washington Post Company