By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
Oct. 10, 2007 - Programs in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are focused on improving the education and vocational skills of detainees and preparing those who are no longer a threat for release to their families, a U.S. general in charge of detainee operations in Iraq said today. Speaking to reporters in Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas M. Stone, Multinational Force Iraq's deputy commanding general for detainee operations, emphasized that all detention operations in Iraq are in accordance with international law and human rights standards, and are always open to inspection by credible agencies.
"Our goals and our activities are absolutely clear and absolutely transparent, and our facilities are open to inspection by any agency that we in the federal government believe is credible," Stone said, noting that detention facilities often are inspected by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Army and Defense Department agencies, the Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights, and the press. "These agencies are welcomed because they are windows for the world ... to view our mission and to offer their guidance. There are no secrets that go on in detention."
Education is an important part of detention operations in Iraq, and detainees themselves are very engaged in schooling, Stone said. About 7,000 detainees have completed up to a fifth-grade level education, and 8,000 have sought out further education. The interest in education has exceeded the coalition's ability to hire qualified instructors, so 173 detainees who are educated at the appropriate level have started teaching some classes, he said.
Educational programs in detention facilities include literacy programs for juveniles and adults and technical programs, Stone said. Also, the coalition plans to build a brick and textile factory to provide detainees with work, he said. He added that all youth detainees are in an education program that includes instruction in Arabic, English, math, civics and geography.
These programs are designed to prepare detainees for release to their families, Stone said. The coalition constantly works to determine which detainees are no longer a threat and can be released, he said. This is done through interviews with detention staff, and if officials determine a detainee is no longer a risk, the detainee takes a pledge in front of an Iraqi judge to forswear violence.
"I am pleased to tell you that in the more than 1,000 of those who have gone through this program and taken the pledge, not one has returned to threaten Iraqi or coalition forces," Stone said.
During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the coalition has released an average of more than 50 detainees per day, Stone said.
The detainees who remain in custody have a high quality of life, including top-notch medical and dental care, Stone said. Detainees receive the same medical and dental care as any U.S. servicemember, with care available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. All medical visits, check-ups and medicine are free, he added.
"Our facilities are the highest level possible in the world," he said. "They provide the exact same care of surgery, extensive treatment and monitoring as any other servicemember would receive in the country."
Detainees are provided culturally specific meals in accordance with Islamic law, Stone said, and during religious observances, meal schedules are adjusted accordingly. Detainees also have all the water they need to drink, wash for prayer and take showers, he said.
Another thing the coalition has set up to make detainees' lives more comfortable is visitor centers for family visits, Stone said. For those families who can't travel to visit their relatives, the coalition has set up video teleconference capabilities for visits.
"It's important for our detainees to have contact with their families," he said.
All detainee operations in Iraq are done humanely and in a transparent manner, Stone said. The coalition works with the Iraqi government to ensure detainees are taken care of, and those who no longer pose a threat are released to their families, he said.
"We see this as an important responsibility; in fact, we see it as an obligation to the people of Iraq," he said.