Army Warns Iraqi Forces On Abuse Of Detainees

By Bradley Graham
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 20, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 19 -- Before leaving Iraq in February, the 1st Cavalry Division compiled a list of more than 100 allegations of abusive treatment of detainees over the previous six months -- not by U.S. troops, but by Iraqi soldiers and police.

The 3rd Infantry Division, which has since taken over responsibility for the Baghdad region, has recorded 28 more such allegations, 15 of which have been substantiated, division lawyers say.

These previously undisclosed U.S. military records documenting Iraqi mistreatment of detainees, often accompanied by photos showing prisoners bruised or cut, highlight what U.S. commanders are calling a high-priority concern. As Iraq's military and police assume greater responsibility for fighting insurgents, senior U.S. officers say they have cautioned Iraqi authorities repeatedly -- in formal letters from commanders and in face-to-face encounters at detention centers and elsewhere -- against abusing prisoners.

This effort has led to friction between U.S. and Iraqi forces in the field, with Iraqis at times questioning demands for humane treatment of enemy fighters who themselves show no respect for the laws of war. U.S. officers say they regularly warn the Iraqis that failure to curtail abusive behavior could tarnish the image of the new security services, risking a loss of Iraqi public support and jeopardizing U.S. and other foreign assistance.

Privately, U.S. commanders also express worry about their troops getting drawn into an Iraqi dirty war, particularly as several thousand military advisers embed this year with Iraqi units, putting them in a position to witness abusive action or be accused of acquiescing to it. The U.S. military has spent the past year struggling to get out from under the shadow of mistreatment by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a letter last month to troops preparing to serve as advisers to Iraqi units, Army Gen. George Casey, the senior U.S. officer in Iraq, said one of their principal missions would be to ensure that Iraqi forces understood and complied with proper standards of detainee treatment.

"It is very important that we never turn a blind eye to abuses, thinking that what Iraqis do with their own detainees is 'Iraqi business,' " Casey wrote, according to a copy of the letter made available to The Washington Post. "Nor can we wink at suspected transgressions."

On April 29, Lt. Gen. John Vines, the senior U.S. tactical commander, issued an order requiring all U.S. forces to prevent, where possible, any abusive treatment by Iraqi forces and to report all such incidents of abuse up the chain of command.

"We don't expect our soldiers to do a formal investigation, but we expect them to get the basic facts -- what Iraqi unit did this, what are the names of the soldiers involved, who else witnessed it -- and get statements and photos the best they can," said a senior lawyer on Vines's staff who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The lawyer said command staff members had not focused on how to approach the issue of Iraqi treatment of detainees until they arrived in February and received the confidential records compiled by the 1st Cavalry. Those records revealed a range of methods in use. A summary page, shown to The Post, cited "assault with fists, wooden sticks, cords and weapons" and "beatings done with electrical cables." It also said "electrical shock and choking" were "consistently used to achieve confessions."

"Once we saw that, we began to think through the process of what we needed to do, and, quite frankly, we're still working through it," the lawyer said.

Iraq's treatment of detainees has drawn criticism from human rights groups. A 94-page report by Human Rights Watch in January concluded that abuse by the Iraqi police and intelligence forces had become "routine and commonplace." Based on research between July and October last year, the study found "little indication" of any serious measures "to enforce existing laws and put an end to" the mistreatment.

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