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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 17:17 GMT 18:17 UK
Inside Abu Ghraib prison

By David Willis
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

Abu Ghraib prison
The prison tour was organised in response to widespread concerns

No sooner had we arrived at Camp Gantis, a sprawling tented compound which lies at the centre of Abu Ghraib, than a throng of detainees rushed towards the barbed wire, chanting and waving.

One man had a loudspeaker and shouted in faltering English "Where's the freedom Mr Bush?"

Another cried: "They've taken away our freedom, our dignity and our rights."

At that point, the marines leading the tour ordered us all back on the bus.

Interviewing or filming the detainees, we were told, would be a breach of their rights under the Geneva Convention.

The military was at pains to point out that systems of interrogation and detention have been drastically overhauled.

Damage limitation

The new man in charge, General Geoffrey Millar - a former chief of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - publicly apologised to the people of Iraq for the pictures which were broadcast last week on CBS television.

General Geoffrey Miller
General Miller apologised for the abuse at Abu Ghraib

He vowed that such abuses would never be allowed to happen again.

The whole point of this visit was damage limitation, no doubt about that.

There has been complete outrage here, and in the Arab world generally, with the publication of these very harrowing pictures last week.

During the visit we were not allowed to actually watch any interrogations take place.

We were kept well away from most of the inmates so it is very difficult to say what has changed.

We only have the Americans' word for it that they have.

But I do sense a very real commitment to ensure these terrible abuses don't happen again as this was a public relations disaster.

Changing procedures, though, will probably prove easier than repairing the damage those terrible pictures have caused to the coalition's reputation among ordinary Iraqis.

People here are saying these are the same cells, and the same methods they knew under Saddam Hussein.

They thought they had been consigned to the dustbin of history, but now it is happening all over again.

I think there's a lot of people in the Arab world saying: "What more don't we know about the coalition, what else haven't they told us?"




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