Sunday, February 27, 2005

washingtonpost.com: Prisoner Uprising In Iraq Exposes New Risk for U.S.

washingtonpost.com: Prisoner Uprising In Iraq Exposes New Risk for U.S.:

Nonlethal Weapons Proved Ineffective as Chaos Spread

CAMP BUCCA, Iraq -- A bloody inmate riot three weeks ago at the biggest U.S.-run detention facility in Iraq has exposed an increasingly hard-core prison population that is confronting U.S. forces with a growing risk of prison violence, according to military officers.

U.S. troops who dealt with the clash tell of a chaotic and threatening situation. They say the extent of violence surprised them. They also say the nonlethal weapons available to them at the time for crowd control proved largely ineffectual.

'What happened here on January 31st has changed the dynamics' of managing such situations, said Maj. Gen. William Brandenburg, who oversees U.S. military detention operations in Iraq and toured the facility last week. 'It showed that the prisoners could hurl rocks farther than we could fire nonlethal weapons. It also showed that we have to do a better job of understanding who we have in detention.'

Four inmates died and six were injured in the uprising the morning of Jan. 31, the most deaths in a prison disturbance since U.S. forces invaded Iraq two years ago. Frightened guards, some having arrived in Iraq only a month before, tried vainly to quell the rioting, spraying pepper gas and shooting rubberized pellets into throngs of prisoners, according to accounts by troops here.

The clashes spread through five of eight compounds at the sprawling detention facility in the southern Iraqi desert near the Kuwaiti border. Prisoners pelted guards with large stones and makeshift weapons, heaving debris over 15-foot-high metal fences and up at 30-foot-tall guard towers that ring the compounds.

Only after two Army guards in separate towers opened fire with M-16 rifles, killing the inmates, did the violence subside. U.S. officers say the guards acted on their own, with no order to fire. Rules here allow for use of deadly force if soldiers feel endangered."

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