Army Calls Abuses 'Aberrations'
Report Cites 94 Detainee-Mistreatment Cases in Iraq and Afghanistan
By Josh White and Scott Higham
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 23, 2004; Page A01
The Army's inspector general reported yesterday that 94 incidents of confirmed or possible detainee abuse occurred in U.S. prison facilities throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, but he added that the incidents were not due to "systemic" problems, even though a months-long inspection found that soldiers were inadequately trained and lacked proper supervision and clear orders.
The report by Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek -- presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hastily scheduled hearing yesterday morning -- concluded that cases of abuse such as those at Abu Ghraib prison were "aberrations" that did not result from flawed Army doctrine.
Some senators and human rights advocates criticized the report. They said it ignored many of the most important questions, such as the hiding of "ghost detainees" and the use of unmuzzled dogs during interrogations. They also said the report's findings are contradicted by the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mikolashek and his team blamed 20 detainee deaths and 74 other reported instances of abuse -- including beatings, sexual assaults and thefts -- on "the failure of individuals to follow known standards of discipline and Army values and, in some cases, the failure of a few leaders to enforce those standards of discipline."
Mikolashek's 300-page report was released on the same day as the eagerly anticipated report of the national commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Mikolashek's inspection team detailed failures at 16 prison facilities. His report said the abuse cases were not part of a pattern and involved a tiny percentage of the more than 50,000 detainees who have been held by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon and the Bush administration have blamed a band of rogue soldiers for the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
"These abuses should be viewed as what they are -- unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals," the report said, which went on to praise the majority of soldiers. "We found numerous examples of military professionalism, ingrained Army values and moral courage in both leaders and soldiers."
Mikolashek said that he looked at broad Army doctrine and training, interviewed 650 soldiers and officers, and visited more than two dozen military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the United States.
He did not investigate individual cases of abuse, relying instead on the findings of previous Army investigations. His team looked at the records of 125 reported cases of detainee abuse and found that no abuse occurred in 31 cases. Of the rest, 54 cases remain "open or undetermined."
Of the 20 deaths considered confirmed or possible abuse, 10 occurred at prisons or other permanent holding facilities, five at forward collection points and five at the point of capture. Nearly half of the alleged cases of abuse occurred at the point of capture, while 22 percent were reported at the holding facilities, which included Abu Ghraib. The remainder came from collection points and other locations.
Though the Army inspectors did not discover systemic detainee abuse, they did document widespread problems throughout the U.S. military's detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They said that there were not enough translators and interrogators in the field and that valuable intelligence may have been lost. To make up for the shortage, the military hired private contractors to conduct interrogations, but more than a third of those workers were not properly trained in military interrogation techniques, the report said.
The inspectors found that nearly two thirds of the detainees were held at makeshift prison camps called collection points for as long as 30 days. Army doctrine restricts the lengths of stay to 12 hours at the camps, some of them little more than concertina wire and a feeding station set up in the middle of the desert.
The inspectors also said that there were widespread problems with preventive medical services for those captured, and that none of the U.S.-run facilities the team inspected was in compliance with the Army's medical screening requirements.
In addition, only four of the 16 facilities the team visited had copies of the Geneva Conventions in the detainees' native languages, as required under international laws of war. None of the facilities in Afghanistan complied with the requirement, according to the report.
Extremely poor conditions were documented at U.S.-run facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. At Abu Ghraib, the inspectors discovered serious overcrowding, garbage and sewage covering the grounds of the outdoor camps, and only 12 shower heads for 600 to 700 detainees. Fresh water was in short supply. So were detainee meals, which were frequently contaminated with dirt and rodent droppings.
The location of Abu Ghraib, 20 miles from Baghdad and near an urban and hostile area, "lends itself to poor and dangerous living and working conditions," the report said. The inspectors recommended that Abu Ghraib be closed and its detainees transferred to Camp Bucca, in a more isolated area of the country.
In Afghanistan, inspectors documented numerous problems at the Bagram air base, a former Soviet airfield, portions of which the United States turned into a detention and interrogation center. The inspection team said the facility was plagued with safety hazards. The roof leaked. Toxic chemicals from previous airport operations contaminated sections of the facility. There was no sanitary system. "Human waste spills were frequent on the main floor," the inspectors said.
The report stands in sharp contrast to findings issued by the Red Cross. The agency has called the abuse it found part of a pattern.
In February, the Red Cross prepared a confidential report concluding that detainees under the supervision of military intelligence soldiers and officers "were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture."
The agency said the widespread "use of ill-treatment" could be considered a "practice tolerated" by the coalition forces because it continued even after Red Cross warnings to U.S. military and government officials.
A Red Cross spokeswoman declined to discuss the Army report yesterday.
Mikolashek said his team found no widespread evidence that unmuzzled dogs were used in interrogations or that ghost detainees were shuttled through the system, practices that were mentioned in an earlier and widely publicized report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was not satisfied with Mikolashek's report or its findings. "If you didn't look at the gross and egregious violations, what else didn't you investigate?" McCain asked.
Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.) praised the report as "vindicating our leaders and our soldiers."
The Army's inspection report was one of several ordered this spring after the revelation -- in vivid and shocking digital photographs -- of abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Though the report detailed many problems at Abu Ghraib, it blamed a few soldiers and failed leadership at the prison.
Mikolashek assigned no blame to high-ranking officers in Iraq, but he criticized some policies as confusing. He reported that military intelligence and military police had conflicting instructions about their relative roles at the prison that could "create settings in which unsanctioned behavior, including detainee abuse, could occur."
The report attacked the interrogation policies as being vague: "While the language of the approved policies could be viewed as a careful attempt to draw the line between lawful and unlawful conduct, the published instructions left considerable room for misapplication."
A lawyer for one of the seven soldiers implicated in the Abu Ghraib case labeled as a "whitewash" the finding of no systemic abuse.
"That would be tantamount to hiding one's head in the sand," said Guy Womack, who represents Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., a reservist with the 372nd Military Police Company in Cresaptown, Md.
After the hearing, McCain said he does not believe the report was a whitewash, but he added "there are certainly questions."
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) faulted the report in an interview yesterday for not examining chain-of-command issues. "It has not answered with finality what went wrong," he said. "We don't know in a definitive and factual way what were the policies coming out of higher headquarters. It's pretty murky."
Research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.
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