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Army to increase prison guard ranks

CRESAPTOWN, Md. -- The Army is boosting the number of military police trained as prison guards amid complaints that MPs charged in the Iraq abuse scandal were not schooled for such duty, officials said.

The Army will create a new company of about 150 prison guards, plus a 50-person command structure, by Sept. 30, according to officials of the Army Military Police Corps at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., who spoke late last week on condition of anonymity.

An additional 300 soldiers now guarding US military prisoners at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., will be made available for duty in the Middle East, the officials said.

Also, two more companies of about 150 soldiers each will be added in fiscal year 2006, the Army officials said.

With thousands of US-held prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is running out of MPs trained as prison guards, said Jack Gordon, spokesman for the Army Reserve's 99th Regional Readiness Command, which oversees the unit at the center of the abuse scandal, the 372d Military Police Company.

Currently, about 2 percent of the 5,000 soldiers trained as MPs each year receive detailed instruction in handling prisoners of war, civilian internees, and other detainees, according to the Army.

During 17 weeks of training, they get 115 academic hours devoted to the subject, compared with 31 hours for other MPs, Army officials said.

Some of those charged in the scandal, as well as their families, have cited a lack of training in their defense.

They say the soldiers, some of whom were trained as clerks or mechanics, were overwhelmed by the job of guarding as many as 250 prisoners each with little guidance except to "loosen up" some prisoners for interrogation.

Lieutenant General James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, dismissed claims of inadequate training when he visited the 372d's headquarters near Cumberland, Md., on May 1.

"I believe that members of this unit had the requisite training to ensure that they were aware of and competent in the task needed to secure enemy prisoners of war, and to ensure that they were aware of the requirement for humane treatment of prisoners," Helmly told reporters.

The Army has also said that all soldiers, regardless of their job assignment, learn about the Geneva Conventions prohibiting mistreatment of prisoners of war and others.

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