A confidential report to Army generals in Iraq in December 2003 warned that members of an elite military and CIA task force were abusing detainees, a finding delivered more than a month before Army investigators received the photographs from Abu Ghraib prison that touched off investigations into prisoner mistreatment.
The report, which was not released publicly and was recently obtained by The Washington Post, concluded that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could "technically" be illegal. It also said coalition fighters could be feeding the Iraqi insurgency by "making gratuitous enemies" as they conducted sweeps netting hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and holding them for months at a time.
Spec. Duwayne Moore works at Abu Ghraib prison, which became known for photographs depicting detainee abuse. A report warned Army generals early that an elite military and CIA task force was abusing detainees throughout Iraq.
(Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)
The investigation, by retired Col. Stuart A. Herrington, also found that members of Task Force 121 -- a joint Special Operations and CIA mission searching for weapons of mass destruction and high-value targets including Saddam Hussein -- had been abusing detainees throughout Iraq and had been using a secret interrogation facility to hide their activities.
Herrington's findings are the latest in a series of confidential reports to come to light about detainee abuse in Iraq. Until now, U.S. military officials have characterized the problem as one largely confined to the military prison at Abu Ghraib -- a situation they first learned about in January 2004. But Herrington's report shows that U.S. military leaders in Iraq were told of such allegations even before then, and that problems were not restricted to Abu Ghraib. Herrington, a veteran of the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Vietnam, warned that such harsh tactics could imperil U.S. efforts to quell the Iraqi insurgency -- a prediction echoed months later by a military report and other reviews of the war effort.
U.S. treatment of detainees remains under challenge. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross recently told U.S. military officials that the treatment of inmates held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was "cruel, inhumane and degrading" (story, Page A10). Herrington's report, which was commissioned by Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Iraq, said some detainees dropped off at central U.S. detention facilities other than Abu Ghraib had clearly been beaten by their captors.
"Detainees captured by TF 121 have shown injuries that caused examining medical personnel to note that 'detainee shows signs of having been beaten,' " according to the report, which later concluded: "It seems clear that TF 121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees."
A group of Navy SEALs who worked as part of the task force has been charged with abuse in connection with the deaths of two detainees they arrested in the field. One died in a shower room at Abu Ghraib on Nov. 4, 2003, a month before Herrington arrived for his review.
A military source who participated in Task Force 20, the predecessor to TF 121, said the task forces comprised several 12-man units that had targeted missions, such as searching for Hussein loyalists and terrorists. TF 20, which had about 1,000 soldiers, incorporated Army Rangers, members of Delta Force and Special Forces units working with CIA agents. They planned their missions nearly autonomously and answered either directly to the theater commander or to officials in Washington, the source said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the missions were classified.
Task Force 121 added Navy SEAL units but was slightly smaller overall. Herrington wrote that an officer in charge of interrogations at a high-value target detention facility in Baghdad told him that prisoners taken by TF 121 showed signs of having been beaten.
Herrington asked the officer whether he had alerted his superiors to the problem, and the officer replied: "Everyone knows about it."
While several investigations have been completed into the Abu Ghraib scandal and U.S. interrogation practices in Iraq, an official military inquiry into the detention activities of Special Operations forces has not been released. That probe, headed by Brig. Gen. Richard P. Formica, was expected to be presented to Congress earlier this year, but a Pentagon spokesman said it is ongoing.
Of the Herrington report, a Pentagon official said top generals in Iraq, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, who at the time directed U.S. forces there, reported the alleged abuses to officials at U.S. Central Command, which oversees military activities in the Middle East. The official said TF 121 was investigated, but he could not provide results.
"The Herrington report was taken very seriously," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report has not been released.
The report also provided an early account of the practice of holding some detainees -- sometimes called "ghost detainees" -- in secret and keeping them from international humanitarian organizations. Herrington also wrote that agents from other government agencies, which commonly refers to the CIA, regularly kept ghost detainees by not logging their arrests.