WASHINGTON – Plans to destroy the prison where Iraqi detainees were humiliated and abused took a small step forward Thursday as lawmakers voted to include it in a multibillion-dollar defense bill.
The plan by Pennsylvania Reps. Curt Weldon (search), a Republican, and John P. Murtha (search), a Democrat, would demolish the Abu Ghraib (search) prison and build a modernized detention facility in its place. It was slipped into a $422 billion defense authorization bill that the House approved Thursday.
"This prison was a symbol of terrorism under Saddam, and it was an institution that the Iraqi people despised," Weldon said.
The abuse that happened at the prison "really created a bad perception in Iraq," Weldon said. "So my feeling is, tear it down. Get rid of it. Not just because of what a few soldiers did, but because of also because of what that symbol meant to Saddam, and show the Iraqi people, 'Hey, we don't want that kind of torture anymore."'
But the proposal drew a rebuke from one lawmaker Wednesday night during a short debate on the House floor. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., said destroying the prison "is the sovereign Iraqis' decision to make. It is not ours to insist upon or suggest but only to abide."
Weldon, responding, noted that the demolition plan calls for the consent of the new Iraqi government, since "by the time this bill passes, they'll be in charge," he said in an interview.
Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (search) of Texas called the proposal "a forward step."
"We do not disagree, if you will, on the symbol that that prison now represents," she said.
The House on Thursday voted 308-114 to attach the amendment to the defense authorization bill.
A similar plan by Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., is pending in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The military periodically frees prisoners from Abu Ghraib, but detainees who are considered security risks are still being sent there.