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Health care concern at Iraq jail

Olivia MacLeod
BBC News

US detention centre, Camp Bucca
US soldiers in a corridor within a high security risk section of Camp Bucca
A US soldier has told BBC News there is inadequate health care provision in the biggest US military detention centre in Iraq, Camp Bucca.

The soldier has recently returned to the US after a year working as a medical professional in the centre for security detainees, near Basra.

He alleges the current medical arrangement uses under-qualified staff and an inadequate records system, with a culture of turning a blind eye to detainees' long-term medical problems.

A new team took charge of health care at Camp Bucca in June and the head of the current team rejects all allegations of inadequate care.

The soldier - who says his career in the army would suffer if he revealed his identity - spoke to the BBC from his home in the US.

"In the army I had four months' medical training.

Camp Bucca
Largest US-run prison camp in Iraq
18,000 detainees
Average length of stay: 330 days
80 detainees held since 2003

"The majority of the patient load at Bucca is handled by medics like me; it's our responsibility to take notes and decide who the real doctor needs to see. But I was not qualified to assess many of the symptoms in front of me."

The US currently holds 21,000 detainees across Iraq, and 18,000 at Camp Bucca, though the numbers are falling as the army releases those considered a low security risk.

Medical records

The soldier says the medical information system cannot cope with the movement of people through the camp. He says new detainees - who arrive from Camp Cropper near Baghdad - often come without medical records.

"There's no central database. The medical files for nearly 20,000 detainees are kept entirely on paper, save for the hospital visits.

We are responsible for providing world class health care to the 20,000 security detainees in Iraq
Colonel John McGrath
Camp Bucca Hospital Commander

He also believes deficiencies in camp infrastructure affects patient health, for example heating and cooling units for detainees being left broken "for months".

Temperatures in southern Iraq can reach 50-55C in summer and are freezing in winter, resulting in heat casualties in summer and respiratory complaints in winter.

Camp Bucca authorities are keen to demonstrate they are open to scrutiny. International media are invited to see for themselves how the camp is run.

Teams from the International Committee of the Red Cross have been visiting regularly since 2003.

Their findings remain confidential, but ICRC Iraq delegation spokesman Hicham Hassan said the issues raised by the soldier would be addressed in ICRC visits.

"If such things arise, we don't turn our back. These are the kinds of things we discuss with them."

Professional

The commander of the Camp Bucca and Camp Cropper medical unit is Colonel John McGrath. Speaking to BBC News, he stressed the professionalism of his team.

"We are responsible for providing world class health care to the 20,000 security detainees in Iraq to the same high standard we provide to the 8,000 coalition soldiers who support the facilities.

Former detainees released from Camp Bucca, May 2008
Former Camp Bucca inmates freed in May 2008 included some medical cases

He says he does not recognise the soldier's claims about not being qualified to assess medical problems.

"The medics vary. They have basic emergency training and... this is the apprenticeship. The medics very much enjoy this, because they get direct learning from a [fully qualified] physician every day."

Col McGrath said his unit had undergone more robust medical training than the team it replaced, and that the goal was to provide a registered nurse for each compound by June 2009.

He also says medical record-taking is now digitalised and 95% of detainees arriving at Camp Bucca have their paper medical records with them.

To be honest, I am happy. They have very good medical treatment in Camp Bucca
Saad Sultan
Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights

Camp Bucca also receives weekly visits from a team from Iraq's Human Rights Ministry.

The head of Humanitarian Affairs, Saad Sultan, told BBC News he had a good knowledge of what went on.

"To be honest, I'm happy, because it is better than the medical facilities in our prisons. I find in Bucca they have very good medical treatment".

Mr Sultan's main concern is that the majority of translators are not Iraqi, so misunderstandings can easily arise between Iraqi patients and American doctors.




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