The Iraqi government has closed the infamous Abu Ghraib prison more than a decade after the facility was rocked by a human rights scandal in which United States military personnel beat, starved and killed prisoners of war.
Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari ordered the prison to be closed due to “security concerns” that the facility could be overrun by Sunni insurgents. More than 2,400 inmates were transferred to other prisons in the region before the government handed down the order to close Abu Ghraib.
Though announced as a temporary closure, it is possible that the prison may never be reopened. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the closure underscored lackluster security at jails in the region, drawing upon a recent incident in which hundreds of inmates escaped from a nearby facility.
The prison was originally constructed by British engineers using American blueprints in the late 1950s. For several decades, it housed prisoners who were alleged to have committed political offenses against the Iraqi government.
Former Iraq leader Saddam Hussein ordered thousands of inmates released in late 2002 as the country faced war with the United States. The prison had been abandoned for less than a year when U.S.-led forces commandeered the facility to house prisoners of war and other detainees.
Abu Ghraib became a household name in early 2004 when the CBS news magazine program “60 Minutes” aired a story on the harsh treatment of dozens of detainees at the prison. The story was accompanied by horrific images that showed U.S. military personnel engaging in widespread and systemic torture against captives at the prison.
Following the report, the Department of Defense charged 11 soldiers with derelict of duty, sentencing many of them to prison and dismissing all of them from the military. The story led to further revelations of the so-called “Torture Memos” as well as the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques, some of which were recently found to have been used in violation of U.S. and international law according to a soon-to-be declassified Senate report.
The U.S. government handed over control of Abu Ghraib to the newly formed Iraqi government in 2006. The facility was later renamed as the “Baghdad Central Prison.”
Last July, around 500 inmates escaped from the facility. Some of those escapees were described as militants who had ties to offshoot Al Qaeda factions in the region. The Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda issued a statement online claiming responsibility for the prison break.