BAGHDAD — A gym, barber shop and planters of plastic flowers: Welcome to the gentler face of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
The lockup at the center of a global scandal in 2004 after photos were released showing U.S. soldiers sexually humiliating inmates has reopened with fresh paint and a new name in a bid to shed its notorious reputation.
Outrage over the pictures fueled support for the insurgency as well as anti-American sentiment among Iraqis.
Mohammed al-Zeidi, the assistant director of the Iraqi Rehabilitation Department, insisted the new prison would be operated in accordance with international standards.
"All kinds of human rights violations took place in this prison. So we felt that it was our duty to rehabilitate the prison," he said Saturday during a press tour of the grounds. "We turned it into something like a resort, not a prison. The first step was to change the name."
Iraqi officials defended their decision to reopen the facility — now called the Baghdad Central Prison — saying they need the space as the U.S. military has begun handing over the thousands of detainees in its custody under a security agreement that took effect on Jan. 1.
The Iraqis promised to treat prisoners in accordance with international standards as they face concerns by the United Nations and human rights groups about overcrowding and violations against inmates already in Iraqi custody.
Judicial authorities showed off the nearly $1 million renovated section Saturday that included a sewing room, exercise equipment, computers, a library, outdoor recreational areas and a barber shop. Plastic flowers lined the halls. Iraqi officials said they expect the rest of the prison renovations to be done by the end of the year.
Greenhouses stood in the field outside where once tents were erected to house the overflow from prisoners when Abu Ghraib was controlled by the U.S. military. No U.S. soldiers were on the premises Saturday.