Release of Iraqi POWs continues at a steady pace
CAMP BUCCA, Iraq — Iraqi prisoners lined up under the hot sun Tuesday, collecting food, water, cigarettes and five crisp dollar bills.
But before the former enemy troops were free to board buses home, they had to pass by 1st Sgt. Mickey Michelino, who cut identification bracelets from each prisoner’s wrist. Some captives would mumble to Michelino in Arabic as they passed.
“They’re saying, ‘Thanks for the memories,’ ” Michelino jested in a thick New York accent.
Soldiers from the 800th Military Police Brigade, an Army Resrve unit from Long Island, N.Y., released about 200 prisoners of war from the Army’s prison camp near Umm Qsar.
Since April 24, the brigade has released about 300 prisoners a day. In recent weeks, the camp had held about 7,000 enemy prisoners. Now only about 2,000 remain, said Maj. Stacy Garrity, the camp’s administrator.
Many of those being let go are low-ranking enemy soldiers, looters and civilians caught up in the fighting. Most of the prisoners denied taking up arms against U.S. troops.
Iraqi Maj. Ahmed Saleh Ahmed, 40, surrendered near the border of Saudi Arabia, he said. Now, he’s heading to his hometown, Mosul, to his wife and four children, where he plans to become a driver, “or maybe travel abroad for long time,” he said.
Waleed Albyite, 19, said he was merely standing near his home in Baghdad, when U.S. troops took him into custody. An engineering student, Albyite used his English skills to help translate during the weeks he spent incarcerated.
“I’m so happy. I don’t know what I’ll do now,” he said. “I’d like to go home to my family.”
Iraqi Lt. Col. Odah Algezi spent 45 days in captivity. He’s also looking forward to returning to his wife and child in Nasariyah, he said, where he plans to write about his experience.
“I’m happy to go to my family,” he said. “I’ve had no news from them.”
Prisoners were vetted by military intelligence troops and criminal investigators before release. Each prisoner is fingerprinted and photographed; a DNA sample also is taken.
“The ones we are letting go have been through a screening process,” explained Col. Alan Ecke, commandant of the prison camp.
On April 7, the brigade took over the camp from the British, who had previously called the base Holding Area Freddy. The camp is named for Ronald Bucca, a New York City fire marshal who perished in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
“Each prisoner gets five dollars casual pay when they leave,” said Cpt. Patrick Ankey, 34, of Winston-Salem, N.C. “They tell us about the possessions they had when they were captured, which they will pick up later.”
During the release, dozens of journalists clambered for photographs of the freed Iraqis. Troops ensured that no photographs were taken before the release, which would be a violation of Geneva convention rules, Ecke said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has monitored the prisoners through their captivity.
Buses took the prisoners to four different cities in southern Iraq. Despite harsh living conditions, the military police officers have faced few problems with the masses of enemy prisoners, Maj. Stacy Garrity said.
“We’ve had minor issues,” Garrity said. “The longer people are here, you get the normal complaints, cigarettes and food.”