Guards and military intelligence personnel allegedly tortured detainees at a U.S. Army holding facility in northern Iraq in late 2003, according to Army criminal investigative documents released yesterday. The treatment, intended to soften up detainees for interrogations, involved hours-long physical exercise sessions, hoods and beatings at the same time guards at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were carrying out similar tactics.
Army officials yesterday also released the first full accounting of 16 closed detainee homicide investigations and eight open cases from Afghanistan and Iraq, a list showing that half of the cases -- 12 -- occurred in U.S. detention facilities. Chris Grey, a spokesman for the criminal investigation command, said there appears to be no pattern in the deaths, which occurred from late 2002 to late 2004 under a variety of situations.
Criminal Investigation (pdf): Outline of 27 confirmed or suspected detainee homicides
The Army released the documents, totaling more than 1,200 pages, in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. They highlight the difficulties U.S. troops were having with detention operations in the early stages of the Iraq war, including confusion over standard operating procedures and soldiers sometimes venting their frustrations on detainees who might or might not have been connected to the insurgency.
In one batch of documents, soldiers with the 4th Infantry Division said that they believed they were alienating Iraqi civilians with broad arrests and draconian release policies that kept innocent people behind bars for being "in the wrong place at the wrong time" -- a practice that has since been criticized as fueling the insurgency.
The investigations also show that mistreatment took place far from Abu Ghraib, the central focus of the abuse scandal. The documents lend credibility to military police soldiers who said they were instructed to treat detainees harshly as a way of extracting better information. But in contrast to Abu Ghraib, the documents show that the Army quickly responded to some of the abuses, changing tactics and tightening rules to prevent recurrences.
Army officials said the documents show that they have been aggressively investigating the nearly 350 cases of alleged abuse reported to them. The ACLU says the investigations have been less than thorough.
"They show that the torture and abuse of detainees was routine, and was considered acceptable practice by U.S. soldiers," said Amrit Singh, staff counsel for the ACLU. "The scale of the abuse and its systemic nature calls for a systematic independent investigation."
An investigation into how a 20-year-old Iraqi detainee's jaw was broken at a 101st Airborne Division holding facility on Dec. 11, 2003, led one officer to conclude that "the detainees were being systematically and intentionally mistreated" by guards who were inexperienced and were following the lead of military intelligence interrogators, according to the documents. The soldiers blared heavy metal music from a three-foot speaker, used a bullhorn to intimidate detainees, hit them with half-filled water bottles, forced them to repeat physical exercises until they could not stand, threw cold water on them at night and beat them while they were hooded.
Another detainee, subjected to the same physical exercises, had died two days earlier at the facility. Investigators were unable to determine the cause because an autopsy was not performed before his body was turned over to local authorities.
"The guards who were guarding the detainees in the holding room were not properly briefed or properly trained on handling detainees, and were shown abusive behavior toward the detainees by the [military intelligence] personnel and the interpreters," an unnamed investigator wrote on Dec. 31, 2003. That was two weeks before the Abu Ghraib abuse came to the attention of Army investigators.
Elsewhere in the document, the investigator wrote: "There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel and/or translators engaged in physical torture of the detainees."
Investigators found insufficient evidence to show who might have caused high school student Salah Salih Jassim's jaw to be broken, but they did report significant systemic problems. One guard said soldiers "hazed" detainees until they fell and hurt themselves.
An officer, whose name was removed from the documents, said the tactics were used "to make it uncomfortable for them . . . we wanted to take advantage of the shock of capture." The role of physical discomfort "makes them tired, and when you're tired, you slip up," the officer said.
"Abuse of the detainees in some form or other was an acceptable practice and was demonstrated to the inexperienced infantry guards almost as guidance," an investigator wrote. Commanders, upon learning of the abuses, immediately corrected policies and procedures, according to the papers, changing the rules in the last days of 2003.
The documents confirm that digital cameras and abusive antics were not limited to Abu Ghraib. On Nov. 29, 2003, soldiers in Husaybah, Iraq, allegedly emulated a popular MTV gag show, making an amateur "Jackass" video. "I am going to punch this guy in the stomach; this is Jackass Iraq," one soldier said in the 52-second video before striking the detainee, sending him to the ground. Investigative documents said the soldiers made the short film "in order to have fun and relieve some of the tension that had been building up during the mission."