Fifteen months after the invasion, and just over a month after the prison abuse images shook the reputation of the US-led occupation in Iraq, military officials are eager to move past the scandal.
They've opened the prison facility to some Iraqi political leaders and recently allowed a Globe reporter a glimpse of reforms enacted at Abu Ghraib designed to improve quality of life and prevent repeat instances of abuse. Still, even the military commanders here admit that they haven't yet solved all the accumulated problems.
This week, some detainees started receiving a letter in Arabic explaining why they were being held, and whether they were slated for release or not. By the end of June, all 6,000 detainees held as threats to occupation soldiers will receive a status letter.
On the other hand, there's still a huge amount of work to do - not only are the detainees still in tents, taking casualties from mortar attacks, but the system still can't process incoming prisoners as fast as they arrive:
The Americans in charge acknowledge that about half of all detainees are still set free for lack of evidence once the United States gets around to looking at their paperwork, and 15 percent of cases aren't even reviewed before the six-month deadline required under the Geneva Conventions.
Also worthy of note (although more on the bad news side of the scale) is this AP article, which notes that Army policy prohibits using private contractors to handle interrogations, although local commanders can override this policy on a case-by-case basis:
Thomas White, who quit as Army secretary last year after clashing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said he opposed hiring contractors to question prisoners.
"The principle that should be applied is that the basic process of interrogation and oversight of prisoners should be kept in-house, on the Army side," White said in a telephone interview. "That's something that would have to be under the direct supervision of the Army."
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart said Saturday that the contractor ban remains in effect. The policy allows for hiring private interrogators and interpreters if there are not enough of those specialists in the Army.
"Commanders on the ground may use their discretion," Hart said.
The Army's top personnel official, Patrick T. Henry, wrote the policy in December 2000.
Henry cited a "risk to national security" in turning over intelligence functions to private sector workers. Private contractors may work for companies that do business with other countries and are not subject to the same chain of command that soldiers are, Henry wrote.
"Reliance on private contractors poses risks to maintaining adequate civilian oversight over intelligence operations," Henry wrote. "Civilian oversight over intelligence operations and technologies is essential to assure intelligence operations are conducted with adequate security safeguards and within the scope of law and direction of the authorized chain of command."
An Army report on the abuses at Abu Ghraib says problems at the prison included confusion over who was in charge of contractors and a lack of supervision of the private workers.
Sigh. At least there is some progress.