[JURIST] Iraqi Defense Minister Hashem al Shebli said Saturday according to McClatchy Newspapers that the notorious Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive] prison is now empty as US officials have recently finished moving the prison's remaining 3,600 prisoners to other US-run detention centers. Some prisoners were released; most were sent to either Camp Cropper [Wikipedia backgrounder] near Baghdad International Airport or Camp Bucca [JURIST news archive] near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. Shebli said that Iraqi army troops are currently guarding Abu Ghraib prison, which will eventually be transferred to Iraqi forces, but it is unclear what will happen to the prison after that. Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry, a Pentagon spokesman, would not officially confirm that the prison is vacant, however, saying only that the US has been moving prisoners in recent days. Over the past few months, the US has been continuously releasing prisoners [JURIST report] from Abu Ghraib and other detention centers as part of a national reconciliation plan [JURIST report] aimed at appeasing Iraq's Sunni minority. McClatchy Newspapers has more. In March, comments by certain US military officials [JURIST report] led to widely-publicized reports that the US intended to close the prison within three months, but these were later denied by Pentagon sources as "premature" and "inaccurate" [JURIST report].
The US has been under pressure to close Abu Ghraib since scandalous photos [see also JURIST report] of US troops abusing prisoners there surfaced in April 2004. The photos increased tension between the US and the Muslim world and fueled the insurgency in Iraq [BBC backgrounder]. A Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] report released in July claimed that US commanders authorized [JURIST report] widespread torture of Iraqi detainees during and even after the Abu Ghraib scandal.