US troops today started releasing more than 300 Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, the Baghdad jail where abuses by American soldiers have damaged the credibility of the US-led coalition governing Iraq.
One bus carrying 17 prisoners left the jail and drove to an American military base in west Baghdad, where tribal leaders awaited them. The prisoners kneeled and prayed beside the bus.
The coalition periodically releases prisoners from Abu Ghraib on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Some 315 were scheduled for release today.
The US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went to the Abu Ghraib prison camp yesterday and insisted the Pentagon did not try to cover up abuses there.
Images of abuse have appeared in photos of Iraqi prisoners that were taken by American military guards at the prison near Baghdad. Courts-martial have been ordered for three military police guards.
Rumsfeld called the controversy surrounding the prison a "body blow for all of us" and said the people who did wrong will be punished.
All 3,800 Iraqis at Abu Ghraib are "security detainees," or people suspected of roles in insurgent attacks on coalition forces, said the commander, Major General Geoffrey Miller.
All prisoners under US control will have been moved out of the old prison building by the end of the month, and a new complex of outdoor camps will be built to provide better living conditions.
Rumsfeld encouraged Miller to thin out the prisoner population as quickly as possible. Miller said 300 to 400 detainees per week are either released outright or transferred to the Iraqi justice system.Reuse content