Its name has long been associated with torture, first under the regime of the late Saddam Hussein, and then under the rule of the Americans who toppled him.
Now, nearly five years after its role in one of the world’s biggest human rights abuse scandals, Iraq’s Abu Ghraib jail has re-opened with a promise of decent conditions for inmates – including a gym, computer chatroom and hair salon.
The prison, which earned global notoriety in 2004 after US jailers filmed themselves tormenting and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners, was shut down two years ago when America handed control of it to the new Iraqi government. Iraqi and US officials, who believed its closure would end what had become a symbolic rallying point for the anti-US insurgency, moved its inmates to another facility on the Kuwait border.
But yesterday, after a fresh lick of paint and extensive refurbishing, it officially opened its doors again, purporting to offer conditions more familiar to inmates of a prison in Scandinavia. As well as modern medical and dental facilities, there is a courtyard for visiting families that contains a children’s playground and water fountain. Inmates also have a mosque, and will be able to sew their own clothes in a small sewing factory. Mindful of its fearsome reputation, Iraqi officials in charge of the makeover have even changed its name from Abu Ghraib to Baghdad Central Prison.
“The prison is officially open and we have received inmates. Hundreds are present,” said prison director general Alsharif al-Murtadha Abdul al-Mutalib, who yesterday invited reporters to tour the jail, which is set behind watchtower-guarded walls in one of Baghdad’s western suburbs. It will eventually be home to around 14,000 prisoners.