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U.S. admits to secret interrogation site in Baghdad

Hundreds of detainees released from Abu Ghraib prison

A busload of prisoners leaves Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison Friday.
More photos and a video clip have surface showing Iraqi prisoner abuse.

Coalition troops clash with militants near Najaf, a holy Shiite city in southern Iraq.

The compound of Iraqi official and one-time U.S. ally Ahmed Chalabi is raided.
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
Iraqi Governing Council

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- As hundreds of detainees were released from Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, a senior U.S. official Friday confirmed that a previously undisclosed U.S. military interrogation facility at or near Baghdad International Airport does indeed exist.

The official said the site was run in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and all detainees were afforded their rights under that international document.

"That's not to say somebody didn't get their head dunked in the water," he said.

U.S. Special Forces participated in running the site, he added.

Two other intelligence experts have confirmed the existence of a secret interrogation facility as well.

It is not clear if this facility is still being used, the senior official said.

Iraqis interrogated at the site were in a broad category of "more senior than the average security detainee," but none were in the deck of cards that depicted the most senior members of Saddam Hussein's regime, he said.

Insurgents and suspected terrorists were among those questioned at the facility, he added.

The existence of such a facility has long been rumored and has been the subject of recent media reports. NBC News on Thursday reported the existence of the site and that Iraqis were abused there.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition spokesman in Baghdad, Friday denied the NBC report's claims of abusive interrogation techniques being used at the site, saying that "any suggestion that torture is used is false and offensive."

He also added that "coalition forces inside Iraq adhere to the Geneva Conventions in the conduct of detention and interrogation operations."

Kimmitt admitted, however, that the NBC report "revealed specific operational locations," in the first direct confirmation of the site's existence.

Two held in Berg's case

Also Friday, a senior military official with the U.S.-led coalition said forces had apprehended four people, then released two of them, in connection with the beheading of American civilian Nicholas Berg. (Full story)

The other two could be released after further questioning, the official said, providing no other details.

Berg's decapitation was videotaped, and the video was posted on a Web site linked to al Qaeda. His body was found this month in Baghdad.

Abu Ghraib releases

Busloads of Iraqi prisoners Friday left Abu Ghraib prison as part of a planned release, a U.S.-led coalition official said.

Kimmitt said 454 inmates left Friday and 394 are to be released next Friday.

The new U.S. commander of detention operations in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, said he plans to reduce the number of prisoners in Abu Ghraib to about 2,500, according to a coalition spokesman.

Miller took over for Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was relieved her of duty January 17, a day after the coalition military announced an investigation into allegations of abuse in the prison.

The spokesman said the review board meets daily to determine which prisoners are eligible for release.

Since February, about 3,000 Iraqis have been recommended for release and are going through the process.

Prisoner deaths investigated

The prisoner release comes as more photographs surface apparently depicting U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Some of the images show soldiers posing with an Iraqi corpse, while the soldiers smile and give a thumbs-up to the camera.

Photos of U.S. troops mistreating naked, hooded prisoners at Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad, surfaced in April and have led to outrage, condemnations and hearings in Washington.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID) is trying to identify additional soldiers and personnel seen in the photos and videos of abuse of Iraqi prisoners, military officials said Friday.

As many as half a dozen new investigations into deaths of Iraqis in custody have been opened by the Army CID in recent days, a military official confirmed. While at least one death is believed to be from a natural cause, typhoid, others "may be suspicious," according to the official.

Meanwhile, the CIA is investigating three cases of prisoner deaths during interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan.(Full story)

The Army has been investigating the abuses since January. Seven soldiers -- all members of an Army reserve military police company -- have been charged in the case, and six officers have received career-ending reprimands.

One soldier, Spc. Jeremy Sivits, pleaded guilty in a court-martial Wednesday in Baghdad and was sentenced to a year's confinement.

Interrogation techniques approved by top generals in the Iraq war were humane and followed the Geneva Conventions, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday. Myers responded to reporters' questions after appearing before the House Armed Services Committee.

Other developments

  • U.S. troops battling insurgents in Iraq are believed to have killed more than two dozen members of a radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in the last 24 hours, U.S. military sources said. Suspected fighters of the Mehdi army attacked U.S. forces in Najaf, slightly wounding three soldiers. Fighting also was under way Friday between coalition forces and insurgents in Karbala. Five Iraqis died and 10 others were wounded, a hospital official said. (Full story)
  • An Iraqi leader and former Pentagon ally, Ahmed Chalabi, says his nation's governing council will hold an emergency meeting Friday in response to a raid on his Baghdad compound by U.S. forces and Iraqi troops. Exiled opposition leader Chalabi, who was one of the Pentagon's closest allies for years, alleges former members of Saddam's Baathist Party raided his compound Thursday with coalition backing. (Full story)
  • Acting on Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's campaign promise, Spanish troops have completed their withdrawal from Iraq, according to the country's Defense Ministry. The Spanish troops were based at Diwaniya in south-central Iraq. There were 1,430 Spanish troops in Iraq at the time Rodriguez Zapatero officially announced in April that the forces would be pulled out.
  • An Al-Jazeera employee died early Friday covering the fighting in that holy city of Karbala, the Arabic-language TV news channel said. Rashid Hamid Wali was killed atop a hotel shortly after midnight by a bullet that struck him, the network said. Al-Jazeera has asked the U.S. military for an investigation. The Coalition Press Information Center in Baghdad said it was checking into the report.

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