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Security, humanity rule the day at detention facility

11 Apr 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

It's home sweet home for enemy combatants in the Ar Ramadi area if units with 1st Marine Division capture them.

Surrounded by barricades, fencing and layers of razor-sharp wire, the detention facility here is manned by military policemen attached to 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.

The Marines working at the complex are reservists who were recalled for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Many of them are law enforcement agents in their civilian lives, so the mission here is nothing new.

"The detainees are brought in for various things like acting against the Coalition and making improvised explosive devices," said Capt. Matt Mestemaker, the facility's officer-in-charge.

The delivering units cuff the captives' hands and cover their eyes to prevent them from seeing where the holding complex is located and what defenses are used to protect the prison.

Once the detainees are brought to the facility, the task of in-processing begins.

"First, they are strip-searched to make sure they don't have any weapons," Mestemaker, from Fredericksburg, Va., explained. "Then they are checked over by a corpsman for injuries and illnesses. After that's done, they get to have their own clothes back. We're in the process of getting uniforms for the facility."

The next stop for the detainees is the "Interview Room," where they are interrogated by Marines from military intelligence. If the Marines are satisfied with the information they are given, detainees proceed to the supply closet to be issued a mattress and blanket.
According to the staff-non-commissioned-officer-in-charge, Gunnery Sgt. Duane G.
Hauer, detainees are housed in any one of 27 cells.

"We go through the rooms to make sure there's nothing in them that can be used against us," Hauer, of Saint Paul, Minn., added. "We even had to remove the locks on the port-a-johns because the spring mechanisms could be used as weapons."

One or two detainees occupy most of the cells, but when units conduct large-scale raids, the rooms can hold up to three people. The captives remain here for 72 hours at the longest, unless otherwise directed. After three days, they are released or sent to a larger prison in Iraq.

Lance Cpl. Kevin V. Moore, of Oakdale, Minn., is one of the military policemen who keep a vigilant watch over the captives.

"Every half an hour we have guards that go around to all the cells and check on the detainees," 21-year-old Moore said.

Because the Marines are restricted from carrying weapons inside the facility, they conduct their cell checks in pairs of two or more.

"Most of the detainees are pretty subdued," Mestemaker explained. "We haven't had anybody act out against us yet. I think mainly because they are surrounded by a bunch of Marines, but we are still just as careful."

Throughout the day, detainees are given as much water as they want; three meals, including a hot lunch from the camp's chow hall and frequent restroom breaks. They are also given the opportunity to shower at least once during their stay at the facility.

"When things are kind of slow, we can let the detainees out of their cells for a little while to walk around or pray," Moore said. "It's known as 'sunshine call.'"

Moore explained that he does not have a hard time treating the detainees well, even though most of the captured men were brought in for acting against American military forces.

"I just try to remember that everyone here is innocent until proven guilty," he said. "I push away any bad feelings and go on with my job."

It's this kind of professionalism that an inspection team from the Department of the Army recently evaluated.

"They gave us outstanding marks overall and said that this facility set the standard for all the other detention facilities in Iraq," Hauer said

Still, the military policemen know there is more to be done to better operate the prison.

"We're still adding several more layers of defense," Hauer explained. "There are more barriers and wire being put up."

The military policemen will continue guarding the facility and building up the facility until mid-fall.