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Do U.S. prisons in Iraq breed insurgents?

Nearly 30,000 detainees crowd two American-run detention facilities, and one US officer wants to set many free.

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"If you roll up 150 guys in a village and you don't have probable cause, you've just created 150 little terrorists," says Conway, who says the US must review the process.

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"I think there has to be more of a reason to hold a detainee or, send them away," says Conway.

In many ways, Iraq's increased security could be attributed to higher numbers of detainees. But much of the success stems from the changing attitudes of Iraqi citizens toward their own security and, to a lesser extent, their views of the American presence.

"You're always worried about 'Do you have the right guys?'" says Brig. Gen. Joe Anderson, chief of staff for the Multi-National Corps Iraq. The American military has been releasing as many as 350 detainees per week, and is looking to release more, says General Anderson, who notes that releasing detainees and getting them back to where they belong is "a major logistical task." [Editor's note: The original version cited the wrong number of detainees being released each week by the US military. ]

"You don't just open the gates and let them go," he says. "It is a deliberate methodical operation."

General Petraeus is deeply concerned about fighting the insurgency in Iraq, both on the ground and inside the walls of detainee facilities, says a senior military official in Baghdad. In the meantime, holding Iraqis is all about "legitimacy," says the official.

"We're not out arresting Iraqis [at random], we're out detaining individuals for whom we have reasonable grounds [to believe] that they are an imperative for security in Iraq," says the official, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. "Everything we do is within the law."

After the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the US military transferred many detainees to Bucca and set about creating a model prison system.

Since arriving in April, Stone is credited for spearheading an innovative detainee program in which education, respect, and vocational and religious programs are a primary focus.

Stone brought imams from Baghdad to teach detainees, many of whom are illiterate, about the teachings of the Koran with the aim to foster a more moderate outlook among the population.

For the first time, detainees participate in boards that allow them to better understand why they are being held – key, Stone says, to getting them to learn how their conduct affects their situation.

Stone says that on his watch, more than 3,000 detainees have been released using his methods. So far, he's seen a very slight recidivism rate – only a few former detainees were recaptured and brought back to the detention facility.

Still, there are hard-core insurgents and terrorists living inside the yards. And Bucca has had its problems, giving rise to Stone's concern that if not done right, a microinsurgency could be growing within the American-run facility, an irony that has emerged as the facility grows. [Editor's note: The original version of this paragraph included details about detainee uniforms that were incorrect.]

Before Stone took command, there was a riot in March, followed by another in May, that may have involved as many as 10,000 detainees. There are also a series of tunnels that have been dug in and outside the facility that have been used, in some cases, to target guards, Stone says.

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