BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military said on Saturday it had freed 1,000 detainees from Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison at the Baghdad government's request, in the largest release to date.
It was not clear if the decision was linked to a demand by Arab Sunnis opposed to a draft constitution that authorities release Sunni prisoners so they can participate in a referendum on the text and elections later this year.
Whether or not the releases were part of negotiations on the charter, they are likely to ease concerns over the estimated 10,000 Iraqi prisoners held in U.S. detention centers in the country.
The plight of prisoners in the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib, once one of Saddam Hussein's most feared prisons, has been one the most emotional issues for Iraqis since a U.S.-led invasion toppled the former Iraqi president in 2003.
A scandal broke in the facility west of Baghdad last year when leaked photographs of U.S. military guards abusing prisoners and forcing them to simulate sexual acts provoked an international outcry.
"This major release, the largest to date, marks a significant event in Iraq's progress toward democratic governance and the rule of law," said a U.S. military statement.
U.S. military officials say detainees sent to Abu Ghraib typically spend six months to a year in custody before a decision is made in Iraqi courts on whether to prosecute them.
U.S. military lawyers in Baghdad estimate that 80 to 85 percent of those arrested by U.S. forces are released without being convicted.
Leaders of the Sunni community, the seat of the insurgency, have complained that lengthy detentions without charge, during which prisoners have no access to lawyers or family, are unfair.
The military said the released prisoners were not guilty of serious crimes such as bombings, murder, torture or kidnapping and had renounced violence.
WTF? So these thousands of Iraqis who we have held incommunicado, without anything resembling due process, can be released now? Yesterday, they were the lethal "dead-enders" Rumsfeld instructed our Private Englunds to abuse -- terrorists so dangerous we couldn't release their names. Today, their release "marks a significant event in Iraq's progress toward democratic governance and the rule of law." Got that? Undoing what we did -- not Saddam's handiwork -- advances the rule of law.
How is that we go seamlessly from "Groundhog Day," where we screw up the same way, day after day, to a "Brave New World" in which we completely invert policy -- turn black to white -- without ever acknowledging yesterday's version of reality?
And if we can so easily reverse course and end stupid, ineffective policies, why not bring our troops home? How is it that bringing our troops home makes the deaths of 1800-plus American soldiers meaningless, but releasing these thousands of once-dangerous men (and women and kids) is not admitting the pointlessness of holding them in the first place?