Detainee in Photo With Dog Was 'High-Value' Suspect
Monday, March 13, 2006
When Army Sgt. Michael J. Smith faces a court-martial today on charges that he used his military working dog to harass and threaten detainees, one of the prime examples of that alleged misconduct will be a photograph of Smith holding the dog just inches from the face of a detainee. It is one of the notorious images to emerge from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Although officials characterized the other detainees who appeared in the Abu Ghraib photographs as common criminals and rioters, the orange-clad detainee seen cowering before the dog was different. Detainee No. 155148 was considered a high-value intelligence source suspected of having close ties to al-Qaeda. According to interviews, sworn statements from soldiers and military documents obtained by The Washington Post, Ashraf Abdullah Ahsy was at the center of a military intelligence "special project" designed to break him down, and was considered important enough that his interrogation was mentioned in a briefing to high-ranking intelligence officials at the Pentagon.
Although Ahsy -- also identified in documents by the tribal last name of al-Juhayshi -- was described without his name in an Abu Ghraib military investigation as a "high value" detainee, he has largely remained a mystery. Ahsy's story, and his months of intense interrogations, contrast with statements by U.S. officials that the images of abuse at Abu Ghraib depicted malfeasance of a few soldiers randomly selecting victims on the night shift.
Ahsy could become a central figure in Smith's trial because attorneys for the Abu Ghraib dog handlers have said that military intelligence (MI) directed the soldiers to use their animals as part of an interrogation regimen, one that top officers approved in December 2003. Unlike others implicated in the Abu Ghraib abuse, the dog handlers can point directly to approvals of the technique in question from top commanders.
In a Jan. 25 sworn statement to investigators after he was granted immunity, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who ran the Abu Ghraib operation, said he approved the use of dogs for a few detainees in the days before the picture of Ahsy was taken, though he said he did not remember signing off on using dogs with Ahsy. Army officials confirmed that Ahsy is the one in the photograph.
"The preponderance of the evidence suggests the photo was the only photo [depicting Abu Ghraib abuse] which had anything to do with interrogations because the detainee was considered a high-value detainee," an Army official said Friday in response to questions about the case. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter is part of an ongoing court-martial.
Ahsy was interrogated dozens of times by military intelligence soldiers, civilian contractors, and members of other government agencies (OGA), a common euphemism for the CIA, according to the documents. The newly discovered accounts reveal that the military working dog in the photograph was being used in conjunction with a coordinated effort to get Ahsy to talk, an effort that continued for months.
Smith, who has been charged with dereliction of duty and maltreatment of detainees, is scheduled to be tried at Fort Meade this week. He is also accused of using his dog to threaten two other detainees and for allegedly engaging in a contest to make detainees urinate and defecate out of fear. Smith's military attorney declined requests to comment.
Smith told abuse investigators in 2004 that military intelligence and military police requested Marco, his black Belgian shepherd, for use in interrogations and to control detainees, and that he complied.
"They use us for interrogations purposes," Smith said in a sworn statement in June 2004. He described the interrogators bringing detainees out of their cells and then having his dog get about six inches from their faces.
Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said he found the use of dogs "disturbing."
"It's more evidence that these Abu Ghraib torture techniques were consciously developed for the purpose of gathering intelligence and not something that was dreamed up by low-ranking soldiers on the night shift," he said.