Seymour Hersh, Journalist and Political Commentator, wrote in a May 10, 2004 article for The New Yorker titled "Torture at Abu Ghraib":
In the era of Saddam Hussein, Abu Ghraib, twenty miles west of Baghdad, was one of the world’s most notorious prisons, with torture, weekly executions, and vile living conditions. As many as fifty thousand men and women—no accurate count is possible—were jammed into Abu Ghraib at one time, in twelve-by-twelve-foot cells that were little more than human holding pits.
In the looting that followed the regime’s collapse, last April, the huge prison complex, by then deserted, was stripped of everything that could be removed, including doors, windows, and bricks.
GlobalSecurity.org, a non-profit website known for its information on military and security subjects, described Abu Ghraib prison prior to the 2003 US invasion on its webpage "Abu Ghurayb Prison" (accessed Feb. 14, 2007):
"The facility occupies 280 acres with over 4 kilometers of security perimeter and 24 guard towers. The prison is composed of five distinct compound each surrounded by guard towers and high walls. Built by British contractors in the 1960s, Abu Ghraib is a virtual city within a city. The political section of Abu Ghraib was divided into "open" and "closed" wings. The closed wing housed only Shi'ites. The open wing held all other varieties of real or suspected activists. The "closed" wing was so named because its inmates -- at least until 1989 -- were permitted no visitors or outside contact. Cells measured approximately four meters by four meters and held an average of 40 persons.
As of 2001 Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, may have held as many as 15,000 persons, many of who were subject to torture. Hundreds of Fayli (Shi'a) Kurds and other citizens of Iranian origin, who had disappeared in the early 1980's during the Iran-Iraq war, reportedly were being held incommunicado at the Abu Ghurayb prison. Such persons have been detained without charge for close to 2 decades in extremely harsh conditions. Many of the detainees were used as subjects in the country's outlawed experimental chemical and biological weapons programs...
Saddam Hussein declared an unprecedented amnesty to thank the Iraqi people for their “unanimity” in the referendum of October 2002, which extended his powers for another 7years. The “full and complete amnesty” applied to any Iraqi imprisoned or arrested for political or other reason but reportedly murderers on a death row will be released only with consent of the victims' families...
Abu Ghraib prison was reported to be deserted following the amnesty...authorities claimed that 13,000 inmates were released from Abu Ghraib prison, however numbers were unconfirmed.