By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
U.S. combat commanders are currently sending about 30 prisoners a day to the main U.S.-run detention centers in Iraq, with more of the detainees likely to be held for longer periods as security risks than those prisoners taken when the U.S. troop buildup first began last year, according to Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone Jr., the former head of the Iraq detention program.
"We're seeing a hardening of the population where there are guys that are as bad as they come," Stone told reporters yesterday at a Pentagon news conference. "Division commanders have gotten much better at determining that the guy's a real, legitimate . . . imperative security risk," he added, saying "conditions are perhaps a little bit less chaotic on the ground, so you can collect more information" about the detainees and determine that they would not be released after their initial six-month review.
Stone, who is ending a 14-month tour in Iraq during which he transformed the U.S. detention program, said there are now less than 21,000 Iraqis being held in U.S. facilities, down from a high of around 25,000. He said the number is coming down slowly, with about 50 detainees leaving and 30 entering daily, for a net decline of 20 per day.
The ability of U.S. troops to arrest and detain Iraqis is one of the sensitive issues being negotiated with the Baghdad government as part of a Status of Forces agreement. The United States has had that authority under a United Nations mandate that is scheduled to run out at the end of this year. Some senior Iraqi politicians have said they are unwilling to permit U.S. troops to retain that power.
Stone said the dilemma in the future will be over the approximately 8,000 detainees who have not committed crimes that would put them in the Iraqi criminal justice system, but whom U.S. authorities nonetheless believe pose security threats.
"If we don't have grounds to put them into your [the Iraqi] legal system and . . . we know they're an imperative security risk," Stone said, "what do you want to do?"
New U.S. detention facilities, such as one being built in Taji near Baghdad, may help reduce that figure by holding prisoners closer to their homes. Visits from family members, civic pressure and the future availability of jobs could make the detainees less threatening, Stone said.