Documents Tell of Brutal Improvisation by GIs

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By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush was being stubborn with his American captors, and a series of intense beatings and creative interrogation tactics were not enough to break his will. On the morning of Nov. 26, 2003, a U.S. Army interrogator and a military guard grabbed a green sleeping bag, stuffed Mowhoush inside, wrapped him in an electrical cord, laid him on the floor and began to go to work. Again.

It was inside the sleeping bag that the 56-year-old detainee took his last breath through broken ribs, lying on the floor beneath a U.S. soldier in Interrogation Room 6 in the western Iraqi desert. Two days before, a secret CIA-sponsored group of Iraqi paramilitaries, working with Army interrogators, had beaten Mowhoush nearly senseless, using fists, a club and a rubber hose, according to classified documents.

The sleeping bag was the idea of a soldier who remembered how his older brother used to force him into one, and how scared and vulnerable it made him feel. Senior officers in charge of the facility near the Syrian border believed that such "claustrophobic techniques" were approved ways to gain information from detainees, part of what military regulations refer to as a "fear up" tactic, according to military court documents.

The circumstances that led up to Mowhoush's death paint a vivid example of how the pressure to produce intelligence for anti-terrorism efforts and the war in Iraq led U.S. military interrogators to improvise and develop abusive measures, not just at Abu Ghraib but in detention centers elsewhere in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mowhoush's ordeal in Qaim, over 16 days in November 2003, also reflects U.S. government secrecy surrounding some abuse cases and gives a glimpse into a covert CIA unit that was set up to foment rebellion before the war and took part in some interrogations during the insurgency.

The sleeping-bag interrogation and beatings were taking place in Qaim about the same time that soldiers at Abu Ghraib, outside Baghdad, were using dogs to intimidate detainees, putting women's underwear on their heads, forcing them to strip in front of female soldiers and attaching at least one to a leash. It was a time when U.S. interrogators were coming up with their own tactics to get detainees to talk, many of which they considered logical interpretations of broad-brush categories in the Army Field Manual, with labels such as "fear up" or "pride and ego down" or "futility."

Other tactics, such as some of those seen at Abu Ghraib, had been approved for one detainee at Guantanamo Bay and found their way to Iraq. Still others have been linked to official Pentagon guidance on specific techniques, such as the use of dogs.

Two Army soldiers with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Fort Carson, Colo., are charged with killing Mowhoush with the sleeping-bag technique, and his death has been the subject of partially open court proceedings at the base in Colorado Springs. Two other soldiers alleged to have participated face potential nonjudicial punishment. Some details of the incident have been released and were previously reported. But an examination of numerous classified documents gathered during the criminal investigation into Mowhoush's death, and interviews with Defense Department officials and current and former intelligence officials, present a fuller picture of what happened and outline the role played in his interrogation by the CIA, its Iraqi paramilitaries and Special Forces soldiers.

Determining the details of the general's demise has been difficult because the circumstances are listed as "classified" on his official autopsy, court records have been censored to hide the CIA's involvement in his questioning, and reporters have been removed from a Fort Carson courtroom when testimony relating to the CIA has surfaced.

Despite Army investigators' concerns that the CIA and Special Forces soldiers also were involved in serious abuse leading up to Mowhoush's death, the investigators reported they did not have the authority to fully look into their actions. The CIA inspector general's office has launched an investigation of at least one CIA operative who identified himself to soldiers only as "Brian." The CIA declined to comment on the matter, as did an Army spokesman, citing the ongoing criminal cases.

Although Mowhoush's death certificate lists his cause of death as "asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression," the Dec. 2, 2003, autopsy, quoted in classified documents and released with redactions, showed that Mowhoush had "contusions and abrasions with pattern impressions" over much of his body, and six fractured ribs. Investigators believed a "long straight-edge instrument" was used on Mowhoush, as well as an "object like the end of an M-16" rifle.

"Although the investigation indicates the death was directly related to the non-standard interrogation methods employed on 26 NOV, the circumstances surrounding the death are further complicated due to Mowhoush being interrogated and reportedly beaten by members of a Special Forces team and other government agency (OGA) employees two days earlier," said a secret Army memo dated May 10, 2004.

The Walk-In

Hours after Mowhoush's death in U.S. custody on Nov. 26, 2003, military officials issued a news release stating that the prisoner had died of natural causes after complaining of feeling sick. Army psychological-operations officers quickly distributed leaflets designed to convince locals that the general had cooperated and outed key insurgents.


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