Nearly all 8,080 prisoners being held by U.S. authorities in Iraq are considered security threats: insurgents linked to attacks on coalition forces, and terrorists and former officials of Saddam Hussein’s regime suspected of having useful intelligence, military officials say.
“The goal is to gain intelligence,” said a coalition spokesman in Iraq. “Under the rules of the Geneva Convention, those in detention can be exploited for intelligence.”
Additionally, the U.S. Army has a small number of Iraqi criminals in custody, a couple hundred arrested for breaking local laws. Up to 7,000 criminals, who until March were kept with security detainees, already have been turned over to the new Iraqi government ministry.
“Security detainees are those who are considered an imperative threat to security,” said the spokesman, who spoke on condition he not be identified by name. “These are people who have been identified through means such as intelligence and reconnaissance as being a threat to coalition forces or Iraqis, or people living and working in Iraq legally.”
The approximately 7,800 security detainees make up about 95 percent of the prison population, and are the category of prisoners photographed nude and being abused at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison, where about 4,000 prisoners are being held, U.S. officials said.
“These are people who have been captured as a consequence of anticoalition or anti-Iraqi activity,” the coalition spokesman said.
“High-value detainees” are held at a prison located at Baghdad International Airport, about 10 miles west of the capital, and are intensely interrogated, which involves regular questioning and psychological and physical pressure designed to make them reveal information.
Saddam Hussein, who was captured in December, is believed to be at this prison, called Camp Cropper, along with about 100 high-ranking prisoners. Officials have said that interrogations of the Iraqi leader have not produced any good intelligence information.
The high-value detainees include former Iraqi officials on the “Top 55” most-wanted Iraqis. A total of 42 of the most-wanted officials are in custody. About 60 others, including intelligence officials, generals and Ba’ath Party officials are included in the high-value prisoner population.
Interrogations are performed by military intelligence personnel and a small group of CIA officers.
According to an Army report on prisoner abuses made public last week, the CIA also kept a small number of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison that were handled secretly and outside of formal prison administration. The CIA prisoners were called “ghost detainees” by the Army because of the secrecy surrounding their detention.
At one point, the ghost prisoners were moved around the facility “to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team,” according to the Army report.
The CIA detainees numbered less than 20 and their registration at the prison was delayed for intelligence operational reasons.
Most of the other prisoners are held at a facility known as Camp Bucca at Umm Qasr, south of Basra.
The spokesman said many of the security detainees are picked up during raids and other engagements, such as counterambushes, and are screened at local holding points and then taken to one of three prisons based on what kind of information they may have.
“For example, you might come upon insurgents in an ambush and then people who are caught in a counterambush. Those insurgents would become security detainees,” he said.
In other cases, military raids are often carried out based on intelligence tips.
“And in the course of that, we find a person who could be anyone from a bomb maker to a financier of the insurgents or a terrorist,” the spokesman said.
Military raids on buildings or residences in Iraq also produce evidence that lead to arrests of insurgents or terrorists who then become prisoners, the spokesman said. Other prisoners have been have been arrested at checkpoints in Iraq with weapons or bomb-making equipment, he said.
Additionally, the coalition is detaining fewer than 30 Iraqis as enemy prisoners of war captured during the period of major combat operation, the spokesman said. All other POWs have been released.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, deputy commanding general of detention operations, told reporters Tuesday that in addition to the three main facilities, the Army operates about 14 or 15 smaller prisons described as “tactical-level facilities” used to make initial assessments of prisoners.
The report on prisoner abuse in Iraq by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba stated that unlike prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the prisoners in Iraq included “a large number of Iraqi criminals held at Abu Ghraib.”
“These are not believed to be international terrorists or members of al Qaeda, Anser al Islam, Taliban, and other international terrorist organizations.”
At the time of the report, 60 percent of all prisoners were held for committing attacks on coalition forces, the report said.
Joseph Curl contributed to this report.