At prison gate, Iraqi families vent
Indefinite detentions are within the law, US says, but angry Iraqis liken practice to Hussein's repression.
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As the US struggled with an unexpected insurgency last summer, soldiers began sweeping through towns and villages, detaining men suspected of militant activity. By the end of last year, the US was arresting up to 100 Iraqis a day. Details of their alleged crimes have not been released.Skip to next paragraph
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But soldiers working on tip-offs from neighbors and associates have clearly made mistakes, since there is frequently little evidence of these men's activities except for the word of informers. With US investigators overstretched, most of the men are eventually released.
Mr. Hamid, who mills around almost every day on the dusty lot outside the prison hoping for news, says his nephew, the son of his still-detained brother, was released on Tuesday after five months in jail.
"He wasn't questioned, not even once," Hamid says. "We suspect that a neighbor that has a grudge against us made up a story to get us in trouble."
The US doesn't release statistics on detainees, but Baghdad human rights groups estimate 6,000 to 8,000 so-called "security detainees" - men suspected of insurgent activity or terrorism - are still held at Abu Ghraib.
The prison was one of the most notorious under Saddam Hussein, where tens of thousands were held and thousands secretly executed.
While those dark days are gone, the families of those detained still navigate a complicated maze to get information on the condition and the charges against relatives, and frequently come to see the US military as their enemy.
"Many of those held in prisons and detention centers run by the Coalition Forces ... have invariably been denied access to family or lawyers and any form of judicial review of their detention," wrote Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, in a report this month. "Conditions in many of the detention centers are harsh."
Hisham Ali, a grocer in Baghdad, spotted his friend Mohammed Ali on one of the buses Friday morning, but gave up the chase after coming to a US military roadblock. "They've had him for six months, but I know him like a brother, and I swear he wasn't involved with the opposition," Mr. Ali says. "They just take whomever they want without explaining anything. Then they wonder why so many of us hate them."
Though looks inside Abu Ghraib are rare, the environment is clearly charged, with up to 30 men crowded into tents. For the families, visits are rare and waiting lists long.
Hussein Yunos, a 50-year-old man in a tribal headdress, says his brother has been held for eight months, and he's managed to get one visit. "I can't really say how angry we are. He has six children and they need their father. Whatever they say he did, it's just rumors."
The US military is working on plans to create a visitors' center at the prison that will hopefully make it easier for family and lawyers to gain access to the prisoners. But for now, information is scarce for the visitors.
One of the perimeter guards said he was as much in the dark about the morning's buses as the families were. He said he didn't know where the men were being taken. "If I knew the answer to that question, I wouldn't still be a corporal."