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Counterinsurgency in Prison

For a couple months now, people in counterinsurgency circles have been buzzing about the commander of the prison complex at Iraq’s Camp Bucca, a Marine two-star named Douglas Stone. Word is that he’s applying COIN techniques in the prison — like, basically, being respectful of inmates — and has yielded results. I don’t know anything about this firsthand, but a guy I’ve become friendly with, Harvard’s Andrew Woods, recently visited Bucca and profiled Stone for the Financial Times:

Since arriving in Iraq, he has instituted significant changes to coalition detention centres, including new review boards which explain to detainees why they are being held and what they can do about it; a pledge-and-guarantor programme whereby soon-to-be-released detainees swear in front of a judge that they will not return to the fight; increased family visits to the prisons; education programmes, including maths, Arabic and English classes; vocational training programmes; and religious discussion classes, where privately hired sheikhs discuss the Koran with detainees.

The reforms may seem obvious as a matter of law, or common sense, but they represent a significant shift from the US military’s previous detention regime in Iraq, under which increasing numbers of detainees were warehoused and riots were commonplace.

Seen from above, the 20-odd compounds of the Bucca camp have a clinical stillness that befits what goes on below: what Stone calls his massive “social experiment”, and what his critics call the world’s largest religious re-education camp.

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