The U.S. military on Friday released 454 Iraqi prisoners from the Abu Ghraib jail, center of a scandal involving abuse of detainees by American soldiers. Some of those who were freed told stories of beatings and psychological abuse.
Another 394 prisoners are scheduled to be released May 28, U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
A convoy of at least six buses, accompanied by U.S. troops in armored vehicles and jeeps, took the detainees from the prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad to Tikrit and Baqouba, north of Baghdad. Some were also returned to Ramadi and Baghdad.
The release came two days after the first American accused in the scandal was sentenced to a year in prison for sexually humiliating detainees and taking a photo of prisoners stacked naked in a human pyramid.
Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits was sentenced on Wednesday to one year in prison, reduction in rank and a bad conduct discharge — the maximum penalty — after pleading guilty to maltreating detainees in the first court-martial stemming from the Abu Ghraib case. Three others were arraigned and deferred pleading. They will appear before a military judge on June 21.
'They destroyed me'
In Baqouba, two busloads of detainees were handed over to local Iraqi police and were released shortly later. The freed detainees kissed the ground and kneeled to pray after walking out of the police compound in the city, 50 miles northeast of Baghdad.
Abdul Salam Hussain Jassim, 18, said he was held for three months by U.S. authorities. He said he was rounded up with others after an explosion in a Baqouba street.
“Don’t even talk about torture. They destroyed me,” Jassim said of his detention. He said a family of five brothers and sisters was detained in the same block and that one of the men was beaten so badly he died two days later.
Another former prisoner released on Friday, Maher Saeed, said he was tied to a car and dragged through the sand for several hundred yards.
Another man who identified himself as Ghazwan said he was held with his brother and father for nine months. he spent six in isolation. He said he too was abused.
The military had said it planned to release 472 prisoners on Friday.
The military periodically frees prisoners from Abu Ghraib, which was also notorious as the site of executions and torture during Saddam Hussein’s regime. There are still between 3,000 and 4,000 people believed held at Abu Ghraib.
The military is still sending detainees who are considered security risks to Abu Ghraib.