By Scott Higham, Joe Stephens and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 1, 2004
On May 1, a U.S. Army investigator took the stand in a criminal proceeding in Baghdad against one of the seven military police soldiers charged in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. There was, he said, "absolutely no evidence" that military intelligence officers or the military police chain of command had authorized the abuse to aid interrogations.
"These individuals were acting on their own," said Army special agent Tyler Pieron, who investigated the case for the Criminal Investigation Division. "The photos I saw, and the totality of our interviews, show that certain individuals were just having fun at the expense of the prisoners. Taking pictures of sexual positions, the assaults and things along that nature were done simply because they could. It all happened after hours. The fear instilled in the prisoners after these incidents may have been a benefit, but I don't know for sure."
A month later, that assessment has hardened into the accepted position on the abuse scandal for the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Yet an analysis of the dates of the photographs that form the heart of the case against the MPs provides a more nuanced picture.
Some of the photographs support the theory that MPs sought to humiliate prisoners for entertainment. The infamous shots show a naked human pyramid, a hooded man standing on a box and detainees forced to masturbate -- acts that apparently were staged to punish prisoners or amuse guards, not specifically to coerce confessions for military intelligence (MI).
But questions remain about the shots of snarling dogs intimidating detainees. The photos were taken weeks after the most publicized MP abuse occurred, according to date stamps accompanying photographs obtained by The Washington Post. The date stamps, which are in a database obtained by The Post that was apparently compiled by military investigators, show that the widely published photograph of a naked man confronted by unmuzzled German shepherds was taken on Dec. 12 -- a month after the human pyramid and during a period when military intelligence officers were in formal control of the prison.
The date stamps reveal that the recording of the abuses started shortly after the MPs arrived at the prison and built to a crescendo of perversity, with the naked human pyramid on Nov. 8. One of the photographed incidents stands out because it contains military intelligence officers in the frame -- showing soldiers gathered around three naked men lying shackled together on Oct. 25. Finally, the photographs suggest that two distinct types of abuse occurred at the prison. First, sexual humiliation and crude brutality at the hands of the MPs. Then, the more targeted use of dogs.
The photographs have always been a tantalizing but limited body of evidence. They are hard to dispute, but it is also hard to know what happened outside the frame or in between the photographs. Transcripts show that investigators aimed to get the stories behind the images.
"Our main purpose was to identify the personnel in the photos; we also wanted to find out if MI told MPs to do these acts," Pieron said. "If so, we wanted to know who told them; that's why we interviewed everyone. No one said, 'Do this to that person,' or anything specific."
Of the seven MPs charged in the case, at least three have given statements suggesting that military intelligence fostered the abuse. But those MPs provided few specifics and did not identify any military intelligence officers by name. The MPs said other soldiers -- Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II and Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr. -- acted as liaisons with military intelligence, but one soldier said that "nothing was ever in writing." Graner and Frederick have invoked their right against self-incrimination and declined to give statements.
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, whom top commanders asked to look into the abuse, said in his report that he suspected that two military intelligence commanders at the prison and two civilian contractors working with military intelligence were "either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses."
Maj. Gen. George R. Fay is now investigating the role of military intelligence in the scandal.
Around this time, the top commanders issued new rules for interrogations. A sheet labeled "Interrogation Rules of Engagement" was posted at the prison, requiring the top general's approval for harsher methods, including sleep deprivation, stress positions for detainees and intimidation with dogs. The rules noted that Geneva Conventions applied and commanded that "detainees will NEVER be touched in a malicious or unwanted manner."
But there is evidence that those rules were already being violated.
In mid-October -- the exact date is not specified -- Red Cross officials visited Tier 1A. They "witnessed the practice of keeping persons deprived of their liberty completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness," a Red Cross report states. When Red Cross officials complained, "The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was 'part of the process,' " the report states. The report also noted the detainees were being forced to wear women's underwear.
The 372nd MPs' digital cameras soon started recording the images of naked Iraqis.
In the photographs obtained by The Post, the earliest abuse appears in those dated Oct. 17 and Oct. 18. One shows a hooded Iraqi handcuffed to the bars of his cell; another shows a handcuffed naked man with women's underwear covering his head.
Spec. Sabrina D. Harman, one of the charged MPs, later told investigators she had heard that it was standard operating procedure to strip-search the detainees on Tier 1A, and that female guards were allowed to be present. But Harman said she was unsure who had told her that: "Either MI, SSG Frederick or CPL Graner."
The next photograph in the sequence is the famous shot of Pfc. Lynndie R. England holding a dog leash fastened around the neck of a naked man. It is dated Oct. 24.
Spec. Roman Krol, 23, a military intelligence interrogator and a reservist with the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion in Devens, Mass., said he witnessed the scene during a late-night visit he made to prisoners he had been interrogating on Tier 1A.
"I said, 'People are stupid,' and I just kept on walking," he said in his first public interview. "If I knew that our people were telling them to do that, I would try to stop it. I just didn't know. I don't want to get into it that deep. I basically didn't ask anyone anything."
The night after the incident, soldiers on the cellblock gathered around three shackled naked men splayed out on the floor. Krol identified himself in one photograph standing to the side while an MP is hunched over the three men, who were being disciplined for allegedly raping a boy in the prison.
Krol also said he was just wandering by when the incident occurred and thought it violated the tenets of good interrogation.
He said he "guessed someone told the MPs" to soften up Iraqi detainees. But he said he never raised concerns with the MPs, other military intelligence officers or anyone in his chain of command, choosing instead to keep what he saw to himself.
"I really don't know how it got started," said Krol, now back in the United States after a two-month assignment interrogating prisoners at Abu Ghraib. "It's [military police's] job, I guess. I didn't tell them what to do, and they didn't tell me what to do."
It was "immoral," he says now.
"I saw this going on. I just stood there for a few minutes. I don't know why they were doing it. They were brutal, but it's their job to handle the prisoners."
He added: "They were yelling at them. Whatever they were doing, they were doing it and I didn't care."
Krol also identified two others in the picture: a civilian translator, Adel L. Nakhla, and a military intelligence officer, Spec. Armin John Cruz. Krol said that he believed the man standing next to him in uniform was an MP whose name he does not know, and that Graner was kneeling over the three men. Other sources have identified a third military intelligence officer in the picture, Spec. Israel Rivera.
The photograph is significant because it places military intelligence at the scene of what is now considered a criminal act in the cases against the MPs. After that incident, Krol said, he stopped visiting the cellblock during the night shift. "I didn't want to see anything anymore," he said.
Krol said that was the only abuse he witnessed before leaving the prison in mid-November. He said the abuse was not designed to glean military intelligence. "I would never tell anyone to do this," he said. "If you do this, it's likely they will never talk to you."
Krol, Cruz, Rivera and Nakhla are all listed as witnesses in the cases against the MPs. Cruz and Rivera have declined to testify and invoked their right against self-incrimination, documents show. So has Nakhla, who works for the Titan Corp.
"We would spray air freshener to cover the scent," said Spec. Bruce Brown, an MP testifying at a preliminary court hearing. "MI or OGA interrogated this guy, and somehow he died. They finally took the body away." OGA stands for "other government agency," a common term for the CIA.
Spec. Jason A. Kenner, another MP, testified that officers from other government agencies and a Navy SEAL team brought the detainee in alive with a bag over his head; Kenner said he later saw that the man had been severely beaten on his face. OGA officers took the detainee to a shower room used for interrogations, Kenner said, and shackled him to a wall.
"About an hour later, he died on them," Kenner testified. "They decided to put him on ice. There was a battle between [OGA] and MI as to who was going to take care of the body. A couple days later, he was finally disposed of."
Five of the 13 acts of abuse -- the most by far -- occurred on one night, Nov. 8. That is when the MPs built a naked human pyramid with seven detainees accused of inciting a riot in another part of the prison. The MPs told investigators that Frederick and Graner orchestrated the incident. England, who did not work on the cellblock and came by that night to celebrate her birthday with her friends, told investigators that Frederick photographed the pyramid. Graner and Harman posed, smiling, behind the naked bodies.
Also on Nov. 8, prisoners were forced to masturbate, arranged in sexually explicit positions and punched by Frederick and Graner, according to some of the MPs' statements.
Sgt. Samuel Provance, a military intelligence systems analyst at the prison, testified that the events of Nov. 8 clearly violated the interrogation rules of engagement.
"I have never heard of any of these techniques used by MI," he said at a hearing, adding that inexperience was to blame. "It was confusing the way the place was run. It was an important mission run by reservists who did not know what they were doing. They were just on their own."
The prosecution cases against the MPs so far have focused on the events of Nov. 8 and a few nights -- Oct. 24 and 25, and Nov. 5. Some of the MPs appear from documents and testimony to have had limited involvement.
Spec. Jeremy C. Sivits, an auto mechanic whose primary jobs at Abu Ghraib were to maintain a fleet of light vehicles and fill prison generators with fuel, apparently was in the cellblock only once, for a total of 30 minutes. On May 19, Sivits pleaded guilty to photographing some of the abuse and not trying to stop it.
Spec. Megan M. Ambuhl, who by at least two accounts was standing on an upper level looking down on the alleged abuse, appears not to have touched any of the detainees. She is pictured in only one photograph watching England hold the dog leash. There is also evidence that Sivits and Ambuhl helped a detainee who was punched in the chest by another MP.
At Ambuhl's Article 32 hearing, a preliminary step toward a court-martial, the investigating officer concluded that while she was present for the pyramid and the forced masturbation, there was insufficient evidence to show that she participated. He did find enough evidence to allow charges to proceed that she conspired with the others in the dog-leash incident and was derelict in her duty for not protecting detainees.
Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the military police commander at the prison, said in transcripts accompanying Taguba's report that the idea to use dogs came from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who was in charge of the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
By then, Pappas had been given tactical command of Abu Ghraib, in an order dated Nov. 19, making military intelligence responsible for the MPs conducting detainee operations. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, has testified that the order gave military intelligence responsibility only for protection of the facility. But it gave Pappas responsibility for "security of detainees and base protection," according to a copy of its classified language.
On Nov. 24, a riot occurred in an outdoor compound at the prison. Nine U.S. soldiers were injured, three detainees were killed by military police and nine other detainees were wounded. Also that day, on Tier 1A, an MP was shot by a detainee, who had obtained a weapon from an Iraqi prison guard. Five military dogs were brought into the cellblock "to either intimidate or cause fear or stress," Taguba noted during his interview with Pappas.
In his report, Taguba lists using unmuzzled military dogs to intimidate and frighten detainees as one of the 13 intentional acts of abuse.
Staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith and research editor Margot Williams contributed to this report.