Coalition officials in Iraq say they will release hundreds of detainees as a gesture of goodwill. The head of the U.S.-led coalition, Paul Bremer, says he will release more than 500 prisoners over the next several weeks, starting with the first 100 on Thursday.
Mr. Bremer calls the prisoner release a gesture of reconciliation.
“They made a mistake, and they know it. But we are prepared to offer some of them a new chance,” he said. “To give impetus to those Iraqis who wish to reconcile with their countrymen, we are announcing today that the coalition will permit hundreds of currently detained Iraqis to return to their homes and to their families.”
Mr. Bremer says most of the freed detainees will be low-level associates of suspected insurgents. But he also says the coalition will release nobody who has actually carried out attacks on U.S. troops or coalition targets.
“I want to assure you that this is not a program eligible for those with bloodstained hands,” he said. “No person involved in the death of or serious bodily harm to any human being - an Iraqi, a citizen of the coalition, or anyone else - no such people will be released. Nor will we release people accused of torture or crimes against humanity.”
To be released, each eligible detainee must renounce violence and must have what the coalition calls a "guarantor," which is a prominent person from within his community who is willing to take responsibility for the detainee's conduct.
The prisoner release comes amid mounting criticism from human rights groups, which have condemned the coalition for holding people indefinitely without charging them, and for denying them access to their families or lawyers. In an apparent attempt to answer that criticism, Mr. Bremer says the coalition will also try to make it easier for relatives to visit prisoners who remain in detention.
Coalition officials say they currently have about 9,000 people in detention, plus another 4,000 members of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or People's Mujahedin, an Iranian opposition group that has been declared a terrorist organization by the Iraqi governing council.
In a related development, the coalition has also announced it will pay a reward of between $50,000 and $200,000 for information leading to the capture or death of 30 people suspected of leading the anti-coalition insurgency. The names of the wanted suspects still have not been released.
The new rewards are in addition to those being offered for the remaining 13 fugitives from the coalition's list of 55 top officials from Saddam Hussein's regime. The top bounty for a regime official who still has not been captured or killed is $10 million for the vice chairman of Saddam's revolutionary council, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.