What Is Abu Ghraib?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Abu Ghraib is a city in Iraq located to the west of Baghdad. The city also lends its name to a prison, and many people think of the prison when they hear the term “Abu Ghraib.” The prison was an infamous location under the control of Saddam Hussein, and it was also the site of a prisoner abuse scandal at the hands of American occupying forces. As of August 2006, the prison is controlled by the Iraqi government.

Abu Ghraib is an Iraqi city located west of Baghdad.
Abu Ghraib is an Iraqi city located west of Baghdad.

The prison complex was built in the 1960s, and it sprawls across 280 acres (1.15 square kilometers) of land. Five separate complexes are enclosed inside Abu Ghraib Prison, along with support facilities which turn the prison into its own small city. Under Hussein's administration, the prison was used to house political dissidents, and reports indicate that prisoners were tortured and killed at the site; at least two mass graves are associated with Abu Ghraib Prison, and there may be more.

Abu Ghraib is the name of a prison located near Baghdad.
Abu Ghraib is the name of a prison located near Baghdad.

When American forces invaded Iraq in 2003, they took over the administration of the prison, changing the name to the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility (BCCF) and renovating some areas of the prison to adhere with American military standards. In 2004, several American media outlets broke stories of severe prisoner abuse and torture; the Abu Ghraib scandal attracted a great deal of public attention and shook public faith in the war.

Compared to abuses under Hussein's regime, the acts of torture committed by the American military were relatively tame, but still horrific. Prisoners were sleep deprived, subjected to immense emotional stress, and humiliated. Photographs of the abuses at the prison were leaked to the American press; one of the most enduring images is a photograph of Satar Jabar, a prisoner who was hooded and forced to stand on a box while attached to wires which may or may not have been electrified.

After reports of the abuses at Abu Ghraib reached the public, the American military reformed conditions at the prison and issued new operating orders for staffers at containment facilities all over Iraq. However, human rights activists continued to be concerned about conditions in the prison, where prisoners were held incommunicado for months or years with no proof of their guilt. In March 2006, the United States military decided to cede control of the prison, and it was emptied and transferred to the care of the government of Iraq.

American forces took over the administration of Abu Ghraib in 2003.
American forces took over the administration of Abu Ghraib in 2003.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


A new look into who is being kept prisoner at this prison and who profits from it: why do they have to pay the government money to be released? American military are being subject to this and it's a shame. Who can help them when nobody knows they are there? Will they be killed first before help arrives? It's a big possibility. Cover it up so no one knows American military have been used as slave labor. They work until they are paid out by family members who can afford to send money to the council and the chief security guards. They need help and fast.


Are there any American soldiers being kept prisoner at this prison now in 2019? I believe so, but how do you prove it? Who is hiding what and why?


I am proud that we have some standards for treating war criminals. Simply choosing to torture people when it suits you just makes us all look like hypocrites. There should be public outrage when the military goes against what we believe. We should be able to fight our enemies abroad without sacrificing our own morals.


I can certainly understand why people got upset about the Abu Ghraib Prison prisoner abuse scandal, but on the other hand, I have to say that it seems like people seem to forget that the prisoners in Abu Ghraib have it in for America. It's not like they were there for jaywalking or peddling fake designer purses.

I'm not saying that that justifies abuse, but I can also see how sometimes you might have to use unconventional tactics to get crucial information. I guess it's a catch-22.


"...it was emptied and transferred to the care of the government of Iraq."

...and where were the prisoners moved?

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