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New Papers Suggest Detainee Abuse Was Widespread

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page A01

The Bush administration is facing a wave of new allegations that the abuse of foreign detainees in U.S. military custody was more widespread, varied and grave in the past three years than the Defense Department has long maintained.

New documents released yesterday detail a series of probes by Army criminal investigators into multiple cases of threatened executions of Iraqi detainees by U.S. soldiers, as well as of thefts of currency and other private property, physical assaults, and deadly shootings of detainees at detention camps in Iraq.

A detainee sleeps in his prison cell at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. His prosthetic leg is on the floor. (Andres Leighton -- AP)

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Video: A civil liberties group is charging that military interrogators at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, some posing as FBI agents, humiliated and abused detainees, including inserting lit cigarettes in their ears.

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In many of the newly disclosed cases, Army commanders chose noncriminal punishments for those involved in the abuse, or the investigations were so flawed that prosecutions could not go forward, the documents show. Human rights groups said yesterday that, as a result, the penalties imposed were too light to suit the offenses.

The complaints arose from several thousand new pages of internal reports, investigations and e-mails from different agencies, which, with other documents released in the past two weeks, paint a finer-grained picture of military abuse and criminal behavior at prisons in Cuba, Iraq and Afghanistan than previously available.

The documents disclosed by a coalition of groups that had sued the government to obtain them make it clear that both regular and Special Forces soldiers took part in the abuse, and that the misconduct included shocking detainees with electric guns, shackling them without food and water, and wrapping a detainee in an Israeli flag.

The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon's past insistence -- arising out of the summertime scandal surrounding the mistreatment at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison -- that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at that prison, and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.

After the latest revelations, including the disclosures that officials in other federal agencies had objected to these actions by soldiers -- to the point of urging, in some cases, war crimes prosecutions -- White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded yesterday with a promise that President Bush expects a full investigation and corrective actions "to make sure that abuse does not occur again."

The details of the abuse appeared to catch some administration officials by surprise, although five agencies for weeks have been culling releasable records from their files, under an agreement worked out by U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. He was responding to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by five independent groups seeking anything pertinent to detainee deaths, abuse and transfers to other countries since Sept. 11, 2001.

McClellan said that he did not know whether the White House was informed about the incidents detailed in the documents released on Monday. These included the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the impersonation of FBI agents by military interrogators -- two of many practices that provoked concern among FBI agents stationed there.

"In terms of specifics, this information is becoming public, so we're becoming aware of more information as it becomes public, as you are," McClellan said. He also said that he did not know whether FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has notified the Defense Department about his concerns but that the Pentagon takes abuse allegations "very seriously."

Amrit Singh -- a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the four groups that sued to obtain the documents -- said that she thinks the disclosure requirement will eventually encompass hundreds of thousands of pages of internal administration documents, although only 9,000 pages have been released so far. Yesterday, the judge told the CIA that it could not delay making its own disclosures until an internal probe of the abuse is completed, Singh said.

"What the documents show so far was that the abuse was widespread and systemic, that it was the result of decisions taken by high-ranking officials, and that the abuse took place within a culture of secrecy and neglect," Singh said.

Col. Joseph Curtin, the Army's top spokesman, urged a different view of the documents released yesterday, all drawn from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command. In detailing internal probes of 46 cases of misconduct, they show "that the Army does take seriously and investigates any allegation of detainee abuse," he said.

The new documents include several incidents of threatened executions of teenage and adult Iraqi detainees. In one instance, a soldier in a unit that lacked any training in interrogation -- but was nonetheless assigned to process and question detainees -- acknowledged forcing two men to their knees, placing bullets in their mouths, ordering them to close their eyes, and telling them they would be shot unless they answered questions about a grenade incident. He then took the bullets, and a colleague pretended to load them in the chamber of his M-16 rifle.

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