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'The Angel of the Desert'

NPR has obtained photos of a U.S.-run detention center in Iraq that paint a very different picture of prison life than other images that have saturated the media in recent weeks. There are no snarling dogs or naked detainees. They do not depict abuse or humiliation. Instead, they show Americans soldiers and Iraqi prisoners smiling together.

The images come from Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. Most include Maj. Stacy Garrity, an Army reservist who became known as "the angel of Camp Bucca." As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, Garrity handled detainee processing at the prison, interacting with everyone who came in and out. She was also responsible for family visitations and interpreters, and she served as a Red Cross liaison.

But Garrity also took on projects that were not in her job description -- like setting up a post office system and procuring soccer balls for detainees. Her attention to prisoners' well-being earned her affection, as evidenced by the gifts and thank-you cards given to her by Iraqi prisoners when her assignment at the camp ended.

Former detainee Akhmed Al-Shimari, who worked as an interpreter at Camp Bucca after his release, says life there has changed since Garrity left the desert behind for her home in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania.

"Now, it's like a prison," he says. "Before, nobody could feel it's like a prison, like everyone was happy. Can you imagine some people asking, 'We don't want to stay in Abu Ghraib, we want to go to Bucca'?'

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.