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Mideast edition, Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The U.S. military on Tuesday will open its first detention facility in Iraq meant specifically to hold juveniles.

According to the American command in Baghdad, the Dar al-Hikmah facility will house some 600 detainees between the ages of 11 and 17. An opening ceremony for the facility will be held Tuesday in Baghdad, officials said and will be presided over by Maj. Gen. Doug Stone, commander of detainee operations in Iraq.

The new facility will provide “basic education instruction” and will include “classroom spaces, a library, a medical treatment facility and four soccer/athletic fields,” a statement issued Monday read.

“The juvenile education center is designed to give juvenile detainees an education that will be beneficial after their eventual release and reintegration into society.”

The military prison system in Iraq has come under repeated criticism, including from some activists who objected to adult and juvenile prisoners being held separately in the same larger prison facilities.

Currently, there are some 17,000 prisoners in the American military system, a number that represents an increase in previous years, mainly due to the security “surge” in Baghdad and other locations.

It is not the first time military officials have attempted programs for young prisoners in Iraq.

In October 2005, officials held an “art contest” in which juvenile prisoners painted concrete bunkers in Abu Ghraib prison used for protection during mortar attacks.

The prisoners were given paints and theme ideas, including “a unified Iraq.”

Army Capt. Jim Allen, who was credited with coming up with the contest, was quoted as saying at the time, “the juveniles become bored very easily. … We are always trying to think of new activities for them.”

The contest winners received a large Quran and several nights of comedy movies, or special meals with sweets.

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