Detention Facilities Leads to Family Visitation

Facilitating family visits to detainees in Iraq: 2006–2007

IHL says

Basic international humanitarian law (IHL) rules applicable to this situation:

Detainees must be allowed to correspond with their families, subject to reasonable conditions. 

Civilian internees and persons detained in connection with a non-international armed conflict must be allowed to receive visitors, especially near relatives, to the degree practicable.

The case in brief

In 2003, the United States of America (US) participated in military operations against Iraq as part of an international coalition. US forces remained in Iraq after hostilities ended to support the new Iraqi government in restoring security and to prepare Iraqi forces to assume eventual responsibility for national security. By 2007, some 18,000 people deemed to pose a security threat were being held in US military internment facilities in Iraq.

Among the protections afforded to detainees under IHL is the right to family visits, regarded as key to supporting detainees’ eventual reintegration into society. From late 2006, the US military reformed visiting procedures at its Camp Bucca facility, in southern Iraq, to increase the daily number of family visits. These measures were influenced by the belief that adopting a humanitarian approach to detention could reduce radicalization among detainees, improve prospects for rehabilitation, and lead to long-term security gains.

IHL compliance highlights

  1. In 2006, at the initiative of the US commander of detention operations in Iraq, the team responsible for organizing family visits at Camp Bucca revised procedures to allow them to process more visitors daily, for example by redesigning visitor forms and increasing the number of interpreters available. Recognizing the humanitarian benefits of close family contact, the authorities allowed inmates to meet relatives without being separated by glass.
  2. Between October 2006 and April 2007, the number of family visits to detainees at Camp Bucca increased by more than 50 per cent.

Case prepared by Clara Delarue, Ana-Paula Ilg, Claudia Langianese, Eleanor Umeyor, LL.M. students at Roma Tre University under the supervision of Giulio Bartolini (IHL Professor), Tommaso Natoli and Alice Riccardi (Research assistants), Roma Tre University IHL Legal Clinic.



[Source: Department of the Navy, Camp Bucca sailors, soldiers increase family visits with detainees, United States of America, 4th April 2007. Available at: Link not available.]
The number of family member visits with detainees held at the Multinational Forces Iraq Theater Internment Facility (TIF) here has increased over the past six months by more than 50 percent.
The increase is largely credited to process improvements made by the 38 Sailors, 14 Soldiers and eight interpreters assigned to the camp visitation center.
The visitation team revamped their procedures for initially receiving visitors, redesigned forms and increased the number of interpreters and database stations to safely process more visitors daily.
"The visitation center maintains a vital link between detainees and their families to reinforce the message that there is hope for a more normal life after detention," said Capt. Lee A. Steele, forward operating base commander at Camp Bucca and an individual augmentee (IA) from the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Command in Pensacola, Fla.
More than 18,000 detainees are held in two TIFs in Iraq. In addition to guaranteed due process reviews, access to 24-hour medical care and culturally appropriate meals, the detainees are authorized to receive family visits.
The Bucca visitation center processes an average of 125 visitors each day. They screen the visitors, collect and store personal property and provide security at the site.



[Source:, On the front lines, 15th April 2008, available at]
Major General Doug Stone, commander of detention operations in Iraq, has been the driving force behind promoting a variety of opportunities for former militants who will be returning to society.
“It was riveting to sit with Major General Stone, […] who realizes that the significant number of men detained are going to be returned to the community”. “That is his objective and why he has brought about things like job training, family visitation, and education for the detainees.”
The educational component is also a vital security tool for the Army. For example, the Army hopes that teaching the detainees how to read will allow them to interpret the Koran for themselves […].


[Source: Al Jazeera, 8th January 2009, available at]
Camp Bucca is a large prison facility administered by US forces near Umm Qasr in southern Iraq. There are an estimated 23,000 detainees.
Inmates are divided between those perceived as moderate or extremist. Those believe to have links to al Qaeda are housed in the high-security "Rock" facility.
As part of a rehabilitation programme the camp authorities regularly encourage family visits for prisoners not seen as a high security threat.
The US camp authorities believe a more human approach to prisoners will help marginalise those they say are a more radical influence.
Unlike many prison camps there are no glass partitions separating the inmates from their relatives.
The idea is to allow a few moments of contact and affection with loved ones.
General Douglas Stone says grave mistakes have been made in Iraqi prisons by the US but that the new focus on rehabilitation is working.


I. Classification of the Situation and Applicable Law
1. How would you classify the situation in Iraq at that time (between 2007 and 2009)? Was a military occupation by the USA still occurring in Iraq? What additional information would you need in order to make such a determination? (GC I-IV, Art. 3; HR Art. 42; GC I-IV, Art. 2; UNSC Resolution 1546)
II. Detention
2. What is the status of the prisoners in Camp Bucca under IHL?
3. Does IHL provide a legal basis for detention in non-international armed conflicts? What protections are provided in IHL for those detained or interned in non-international armed conflicts? (GC I-IV, Art. 3; P II, Arts 4, 5, 6; CIHL, Rules 99, 106)
4. Is there an obligation to allow visits from family to persons deprived of their liberty in non-international armed conflicts? (CIHL, Rule 126) (Document C) Is the separation of some detainees in a different area of the facility, and the following limitation of their rights, a lawful measure under IHL?
5. Under IHL, do detained persons in a non-international armed conflict have a right to correspondence or visit with their family? Under what circumstances such rights might be limited? (CIHL, Rules 118, 121, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128; P II Art. 5)
III. Elements contributing to Respect for IHL
6. (Document D) Why, in your opinion, did US forces aim to increase the number of family visits to detainees in Camp Bucca? What is the importance of family visits to detained persons in armed conflicts? How do you think this could have had an impact on the political and military situation in the country?
7. What other measures were taken in order to provide the persons deprived of liberty with a proper treatment, in respect of their dignity? Is the adoption of such measures qualified by military authorities only as a way to comply with IHL obligations? What further effects could be identified?
8. (Document B) In your opinion, can the proper treatment of the persons deprived of liberty as well as the preservation of their dignity facilitate their return to the community?