The Army Reserve unit tarnished by the Abu Ghraib detainee-abuse scandal has been mobilized to return to Iraq in its first deployment since photographs of naked, humiliated prisoners surfaced more than six years ago, the Army said Friday.
The dozens of pictures that prompted the Army to investigate the unit on CBS' "60 Minutes II" in April 2004.
The 372nd Military Police Company of Cresaptown will leave April 29 for one to three months of training at Fort Bliss, Texas, followed by a planned deployment to Iraq, said Sgt. Darius Kirkwood, a spokesman for the 200th Military Police Command at Fort Meade. Few members of the unit remain from when the detainee photographs were taken, due to normal turnover, he said.
Kirkwood said the group's final destination could change, depending on the military's needs.
The 130 to 170 MPs could be assigned to guard or transport prisoners, provide security for an installation or convoy, or perform general police functions, Kirkwood said.
He dismissed questions about whether the 372nd's return to Iraq could provoke a hostile response. Militants there have used Abu Ghraib photographs to incite anti-American sentiment.
"I think that if that were a big enough concern, if anyone would think that was that big of an issue, this unit would not be deploying as it is," he said.
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The unit became internationally known in 2004 when seven enlisted members were charged in connection with the mistreatment of detainees at the prison near Baghdad. All were convicted and six served prison time.
Four other low-ranking soldiers from outside the 372nd also were convicted of abusing Abu Ghraib prisoners.
Kirkwood said neither the other members of the unit at the time, nor its current roster should be judged by the crimes of a few.
"The unit itself, I would think, was not the problem, but perhaps the activities of several individuals," Kirkwood said. "I have no reason to believe we're not 100 percent confident in this unit."
Since returning from Iraq in 2004, the 372nd has functioned as a stateside reserve unit with members performing part-time duties that included assisting a Haitian hurricane-relief effort in 2005.
Kenneth A. Davis, a former unit member who wasn't charged in the scandal, said the reconstituted 372nd marks a new beginning.
"The unit is made up of good people. We've got a new administration. This is a nation of second chances. I would hope a Muslim nation would look at seven years passing and a new administration and show restraint and tolerance and give them a second chance as well," Davis said.
Col. Jan Apo, an MP working on a master's degree at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., said the Army has revamped its detention training since Abu Ghraib. Besides getting certified in detention skills during training, MPs who are assigned to take over guard duties from a departing unit get on-the-job supervision before the other unit leaves, Apo said. The Abu Ghraib defendants complained of a lack of training.
Apo also said the Army created a separate prison operations command structure to eliminate the confusion described at Abu Ghraib over whether the prisons were controlled by MPs or military intelligence.