Baghdad, Iraq The U.S. military freed more than 600 detainees Friday from Abu Ghraib prison, the largest release since officials announced their intention to cut the population in half and send people home to their families.
Hundreds of Iraqis packed the shoulder of the highway outside the prison, waiting for relatives and loved ones to emerge from behind the barbed wire and thick stone walls. Mothers and wives clutched the pictures and identification numbers of their detained sons and husbands, hoping they would match those on a list of prisoners to be released.
"My husband is not a criminal and he is still here," said Rajaa Abdullah, 53, whose husband's number was on the list. "Where is justice? Where is the freedom that Bush claims he brought to the Iraqis?"
Heifa Naser, 50, Abdullah's sister-in-law, who had waited in vain for her husband, interrupted with tears and a choked voice. "We hate them," she said. "If I can, I'll kill them by myself but I know I can't. We have only tears, and that's all. We like the American people, but the problem is their government. They are just like us, without any power. We saw them carrying banners and having demonstrations against the war."
As a caravan of U.S. soldiers passed in front of her, Naser shouted in Arabic, "May God curse you."
Seven U.S. soldiers have been charged with abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib, a 280-acre compound 20 miles west of Baghdad that first became notorious for torture and mass execution under the rule of President Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military said this week that it would vacate the prison by August, and President Bush has said he wanted to see it demolished.
The U.S. military has released more than 2,000 prisoners in the past month and plans to free another 800 by June 30, when occupation officials are to turn over limited authority to an interim Iraqi government.
Col. Karl Goetzke said a team of senior officers had reviewed case files of more than 7,500 detainees. Those not deemed to pose a security threat, he said, would be freed.