An internal Army report warned in November that Iraqis were being detained too long and without appropriate review in an immense U.S.-run prison system that failed to keep track of them, did not provide proper sanitation and medical care, was understaffed, and inappropriately mixed juveniles and adults.
The confidential survey by Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder highlighted numerous prison shortcomings that had stoked friction between the detainees and their U.S. guards last year, which led in turn to riots and other protests that prison guards put down with the abuses documented in photographs and a damning Army report.
Ryder, a criminal investigator for the Army who was appointed provost marshal general in October, was asked, as one of his first assignments, to survey the prison system. It was then being deluged by thousands of new detainees, many arrested in U.S. military sweeps aimed at finding or learning about Iraqis who were targeting U.S. forces.
Although Ryder concluded in a Nov. 5 report that international norms for military prisoners were being met "with room for improvement," he also found in particular that the Army was not respecting its own rules for regular reviews and timely releases of the detainees it held.
Ryder reported that some detainees had been jailed for more than six months without a required review of their incarceration. He said many more had been imprisoned without a required screening -- within 72 hours -- to verify that their arrests were justified.
Soldiers often took as long as two weeks to deliver the detainees to prisons where the screening was conducted, sometimes in a perfunctory manner, Ryder said in his report, which was appended in March to a classified report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba about the abuses by U.S. personnel at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
Ryder also said that the process by which Iraqis were classified as "security detainees" -- those who posed a threat to U.S. forces and were held in special cellblocks and subjected to aggressive interrogation for long periods -- "requires more oversight and discipline." He said the release process was "not following DOD [Department of Defense] policy for the global war on terror."
Taguba drew a direct connection between these problems and the abuses that occurred in cellblocks where security detainees were held and interrogated, noting that "many of the systemic problems that surfaced during [Ryder's] . . . assessment are the very same issues that are the subject of this investigation."
Ryder's concerns about the pace of prisoner releases during this period were later confirmed by other Army officers and by enlisted personnel who testified during the Army's abuse investigation.
For example, Brig. Gen. Janis L. Karpinski -- who commanded the 800th Military Police Brigade, which was in charge of the prisons until Nov. 19, when key cellblocks were turned over to military intelligence officials -- said in an interview that, despite the regulations, "we had detainees in our facilities and especially security detainees [who were] . . . there for several weeks before anyone told them what they were there for."
Taguba's report quotes Karpinski as pinning much of the responsibility for keeping the detainees in jail too long on the top military intelligence official in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast. Fast routinely denied the recommendations of review boards that certain detainees no longer posed a threat and should be released, Karpinski told Taguba, according to his report. Karpinski called the process "extremely slow and ineffective" and said it caused overcrowding.
Mistakes were also made during arrests, according to various Army personnel and Red Cross officials in Iraq. Sgt. Gregory A. Minor, a member of the 418th Military Police Detachment assigned to the Abu Ghraib prison, testified about security detainees at an Army hearing in early April. "Unless the review board reviews their package [of data supporting their detention], they can be accused of anything from being at the wrong place at the wrong time to acts against coalition forces," Minor said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a February report to U.S. military commanders in Iraq that military intelligence officials had said that 70 percent to 90 percent of those incarcerated in Iraq had been arrested by mistake. The Red Cross also said detainees at Abu Ghraib were frequently "questioned without knowing what they were accused of." It described the U.S.-led military coalition as "uncaring" about international rules requiring notification of families. This behavior "seriously affects the image of the Occupying Powers amongst the Iraqi population," the Red Cross said.