Army intelligence officers suspected that a Syrian and admitted jihadist who was detained at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad knew about the illegal flow of money, arms and foreign fighters into Iraq. But he was smug, the officers said, and refused to talk. So last November, they devised a special plan for his interrogation, going beyond what Army rules normally allowed.
An Army colonel in charge of intelligence-gathering at the prison, spelling out the plan in a classified cable to the top U.S. military officer in Iraq, said interrogators would use a method known as "fear up harsh," which military documents said meant "significantly increasing the fear level in a security detainee." The aim was to make the 31-year-old Syrian think his only hope in life was to talk, undermining his confidence in what they termed "the Allah factor."
According to the plan, interrogators needed the assistance of military police supervising his detention at the prison, who ordinarily play no role in interrogations under Army regulations. First, the interrogators were to throw chairs and tables in the man's presence at the prison and "invade his personal space."
Then the police were to put a hood on his head and take him to an isolated cell through a gantlet of barking guard dogs; there, the police were to strip-search him and interrupt his sleep for three days with interrogations, barking and loud music, according to Army documents. The plan was sent to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
A spokesman for Sanchez declined to comment yesterday, and so it remains uncertain whether the plan was one of 25 requests for unusually tough interrogations that Army officials in Washington have said he approved between October and the present. All involved prolonged isolation of detainees, the officials said on Friday, adding that Sanchez last week issued an order barring requests for approval of particularly severe questioning tactics.
But the fact that a plan for such intense and highly organized pressure was proposed by Col. Thomas M. Pappas -- a senior military intelligence officer in Iraq who took his job at the insistence of a general dispatched from the Pentagon -- suggests a wider circle of involvement in aggressive and potentially abusive interrogations of Iraqi detainees, encompassing officers higher up the chain of command, than the Army has previously detailed.
While the Army has blamed the physical abuses documented in soldiers' photographs on a handful of night-shift soldiers at Abu Ghraib who ignored rules on humane treatment, government officials and humanitarian experts say the order indicates the abuses could instead have been an outgrowth of harsh treatment that had been approved.
They suggest in particular that military intelligence officials may not only have improperly tolerated physical abuses, as stated in the Army's official internal report, but also that they may have deliberately set the stage for them. According to a hypothesis now being explored by members of Congress, this stage was set through a directed collaboration between two units of military police and intelligence officers, virtually unprecedented in recent Army practice.
The interrogation plan for the Syrian "clearly allows for a crossing of the line into abusive behavior," said James Ross, a senior legal adviser to Human Rights Watch who reviewed it for The Washington Post.
What makes its wording so troubling, Ross added, is that it allows "wide authority for soldiers conducting interrogations. . . . Were the superior officer to agree to these techniques, it would be opening the door for any soldier or officer to be committing abusive acts and believe they were doing so" with official sanction.
Congressional testimony by Defense Department and Army officials over the past two weeks has highlighted the fact that the abuses in Iraq -- which mostly occurred in the last quarter of 2003 -- came at a time of heightened pressures in Washington for more robust intelligence-gathering, because of proliferating attacks on U.S. forces and the dwindling intelligence on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction.
Although no direct links have been found between the documented abuses and orders from Washington, Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition that they not be named say that the hunt for data on these two topics was coordinated during this period by Defense Undersecretary Stephen A. Cambone, the top U.S. military intelligence official and long one of the closest aides to Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The coincidence in timing has in turn prompted several lawmakers to say they intend to probe more deeply in coming weeks to determine whether the specialists and sergeants handling the prison guard dogs and pulling hoods over prisoners' heads were in fact implementing policy directives instigated by Washington that may have set the stage for abuses.
"We've got no proof that a person in authority told them to do this activity," Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, the Army's deputy chief of staff, said on May 11.
But three directives in particular have already begun to attract congressional scrutiny: The first is a classified report by Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller on Sept. 9, 2003, demanding that the military police at Abu Ghraib be dedicated and trained to set "the conditions for the successful interrogation and exploitation of internees/detainees." The report, which Cambone has testified was presented to his deputy William Boykin, contained five recommendations spelling out how this was to occur and reported it had already begun.
The second is an Oct. 12 classified memo signed by Sanchez that demanded a "harmonization" of military policing and intelligence work at Abu Ghraib for the purpose of ensuring "consistency with the interrogation policies . . . and maximiz[ing] the efficiency of the interrogation."
The memo, obtained by The Washington Post, also states "it is imperative that interrogators be provided reasonable latitude to vary their approach," depending on a detainee's background, strengths, resistance and other factors. It also explicitly demands humane treatment and requires that any dogs present during the interrogations be muzzled.
The third is a Nov. 19 memo from Sanchez's office that formally placed the two key Abu Ghraib cellblocks where the abuses occurred under the control of Pappas and his 205th Military Intelligence Brigade. It was 11 days later, after this memo placed the military police responsible for "security of detainees and base protection" in Pappas's hands, that he sought, in his memo to Sanchez, to draw military police explicitly into applying pressure on the Syrian.
The fact that prison interrogations were so directly controlled by these military directives, as well as the apparent cultural sophistication of some of the abuses, has already led some lawmakers to conclude that much more experienced and senior officers were involved than the seven military police now charged by the Army with wrongdoing.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) expressed skepticism during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last Tuesday, for example, that a group of military police from rural Maryland and West Virginia "would have chosen bizarre sexual humiliations that were specifically designed to be offensive to Muslim men [as the photos depicted]. . . . It implies too much knowledge. . . . And that is why, even though I do not yet have the evidence, I cannot help but suspect that others were involved."
Alexander did nothing to steer her away from that idea. "Well, ma'am, your logic is correct. I think that the difficult part is to find out who told whom what to do."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) expressed similar concerns on May 7. "On the surface, you could portray the 800th MP Brigade as a Reserve unit with poor leadership and poor training," he told top Pentagon officials at the hearing that day. "However, the abuse of prisoners is not merely the failure of an MP brigade; it's a failure of the chain of command."
At the heart of the unfolding congressional probe into what happened at Abu Ghraib is the conduct there of two units: the 800th Military Police Brigade, an Army reserve unit based in Uniondale, N.Y., and the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, a regular Army unit principally based in Germany and Italy.
Two months after the end of the war, when members of the 800th brigade were preparing to go home, they were abruptly told they were being assigned to take over the Iraqi prison system. Looting in the weeks after the war ended had reduced Abu Ghraib and virtually every other prison to a shambles, producing acute shortages of supplies and eliminating such amenities as water and electricity.
"It's difficult for people who are not on the ground in Iraq to understand how nonexistent the detention infrastructure was when we arrived," said a senior official with the U.S.-led occupation. "There was no reliable labor force to work in the prisons. . . . It was in total disarray."
Almost immediately, the brigade's chain of command was tangled, as was the case with many military units in Iraq. Its work was directly supervised by the U.S. military's deputy commander in Iraq, Army Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, but Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski said she also "answered to" L. Paul Bremer and to a regional commander in Kuwait.
The brigade, like its specific components assigned to Abu Ghraib, was trained not to oversee the detention of prisoners in jails, but to resettle prisoners of war. "They were assigned there because there was a shortage of specialty units," Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, testified last week before a House Government Reform subcommittee.
All of the Iraqi prisons were understaffed because promised civilian contractors never appeared, Karpinski said. Unlike the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which has 800 police guarding 640 detainees, Karpinski had one soldier available to guard every 10 detainees in a prison population that included men and women of varying ages, criminals, terrorists and mentally ill persons.
"It's like being in Dodge City in the 1870's without speaking the same language," said a newsletter home last summer from the 372nd Military Police Company, the Cresaptown, Md., unit assigned in October to guard Abu Ghraib. "The prison 'detainee' climate is becoming more strained as the months drag on," the December newsletter said. "We take each day as it comes, do our jobs, and wait for the day when we all get to go home."
Discipline among the soldiers slumped over time, according to internal Army reports. Military police were permitted to wear civilian clothes to boost morale, but it contributed to sloppiness about other rules, investigators concluded; platoon leaders encouraged some of their soldiers to carry concealed weapons while walking among the detainees, a violation of regulations. Punishments for minor offenses were rare; a climate of leniency developed.
Army investigators have concluded that the brigade's low familiarity with Islamic culture provided a breeding ground for racism and a widespread conviction that Muslims were terrorists. One of its dog handlers insisted that the animals simply disliked Iraqis because of their appearance and smell.
One of the most notorious photos to emerge from the prison -- of naked and cuffed Iraqi men pushed together on the prison floor in a simulation of sex -- originated in a decision by guards to punish two Iraqis for raping a 14-year-old male detainee, the participants said. On another occasion, a guard attacked, beat and hung a handcuffed Iraqi by his wrists -- dislocating his shoulders -- in a fit of anger over the Iraqi's role in smuggling a pistol into the prison.
When Karpinski brought up a Red Cross complaint that intelligence officers had demanded recalcitrant prisoners be escorted back to their cells wearing women's underwear, a deputy to the chief intelligence officer joked about it.
"I told the commander to stop giving them Victoria's Secret catalogs," the deputy said in a roomful of officers, Karpinski recalled. She said she replied that the Red Cross would not appreciate that response.
The decision to place the prison's key cellblocks -- 1A and 1B, which held "security detainees" suspected of threatening U.S. forces or knowing about such threats -- under the direct control of the 205th MI Brigade came shortly after Miller visited Iraq in late August and early September at the request of Cambone, according to Cambone's congressional testimony last week.
Miller, a combat officer with no training in prisons or intelligence-gathering, had won accolades inside the Pentagon and attracted controversy outside it earlier in the year, when he oversaw a transformation of the military's long-term detention center at Guantanamo Bay from a disorganized bundle of tents into an efficient prison that routinely produced what officials have called "moderately valuable" intelligence for the war on terrorism.
Miller's signature achievement at the Cuban center was to implement a system of rewards and punishments in detainee housing, food, clothing and other treatment that provided incentives for use as leverage during interrogations. Cambone testified last week that he sent Miller to Iraq to help ensure "there was a flow of intelligence [from the jail] back to the commands and [that it was] done in an efficient and effective way."
Shortly after Miller's return, new rules were written for interrogation sessions involving detainees in cellblocks 1A and 1B, which stressed a collaboration between military police and intelligence officials while also providing safeguards such as legal reviews of the interrogation plans and scrutiny of how they were carried out. The rules were signed by Sanchez, but it remains unclear who -- if anyone -- in Washington may have seen them in draft or final form.
The reality in the field, Army investigators quickly learned, was an absence of any supervision or monitoring. Pappas, for example, told them that no procedures were in place for the independent monitoring of the interrogations and no personnel were available to do it, officials familiar with his testimony said. Moreover, most of the Army soldiers accused of abuse have said they were encouraged to undertake it by military intelligence officials in the prison, who sometimes merely observed and sometimes took part in it themselves.
"MI has . . . instructed us to place prisoners in an isolation cell with little or no clothes, no toilet or running water, no ventilation or window, for as much as three days," Army Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II said in a diary he wrote after being accused of wrongdoing.
One of the soldiers "was known to bang on the table, yell, scream, and maybe assaulted detainees during interrogations in the booth," said Sgt. Samuel Jefferson Provance III, a military intelligence officer who testified during a military court proceeding against one of the military policemen on May 1. "This was not to be discussed. It was kept 'hush-hush.' "
Although at least four Army lawyers were assigned to the military intelligence brigade and its offices at Abu Ghraib, it remains unclear whether they played a meaningful role in trying to block abuses. Maj. Gen. Thomas Romig, the service's judge advocate general, testified last week that the Army is reviewing their "resourcing and training" in the wake of the scandal.
Karpinski said in an interview last week that if the interrogation plan put forward by Pappas had been presented to her, "I would have said, 'Absolutely not. Not on my watch. Take your procedures somewhere else.' " If such a plan can be made, she said, "this whole thing is more offensive than I thought. That does sound like abuse and torture."
Robert K. Goldman, an American University law professor who teaches a course on the law of war, commented about the interrogation plan that, "in my view, a good deal of it crosses the line. . . . They are talking about breaking the detainee, and exercising extreme moral and possibly physical coercion."
Why is the dog there? he asked. "This is very coercive. It cannot be justified by any lawful interrogation technique." The strip searching of someone already being held in detention is clearly "to humiliate him. There is no question. . . . This is violative of the spirit if not the letter of the Geneva Conventions. It's like a B-grade movie."
Foreign correspondents Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Sewell Chan in Baghdad contributed to this report.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez
Stephen A. Cambone
Brig. Gen. Janis L.