Military intelligence officials at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq ordered military police soldiers to keep several detainees hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross, leaving a coded message on cell doors to indicate which detainees the visitors were not allowed to see or interview, according to court testimony here Wednesday.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ward, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company who was in charge of the day shift at Abu Ghraib's most secure cellblock, said that during at least three official visits last fall and winter, he was ordered to steer the ICRC away from certain detainees whose cells were tagged with signs bearing the words "Article 134." Some of them were kept in a part of the prison's Tier 1A that was obscured by two separate doors.
"I didn't understand it, and I can't tell you what that meant," Ward testified, saying he had no idea what Article 134 was. Military prosecutors here also could not say what the term meant. Ward said military intelligence "directed it. MI put the signs on the door."
The testimony at a preliminary court hearing for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, 21 -- a soldier charged with abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib last fall -- echoes findings of an Army investigation that severely criticized officials there for keeping "ghost detainees," those who were hidden from international humanitarian workers.
An Army investigation into abuses at Abu Ghraib by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba reported that some detainees were being kept secretly and strongly condemned the practice as a violation of international law. A subsequent Army Inspector General's report, issued to Congress last month, said the IG had no evidence that detainees were hidden from international officials or that there was any systemic problem related to such practices.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said he authorized keeping one soldier off the official rolls under unusual circumstances, but members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have expressed concern that the practice was more widespread than that.
Ward's testimony came at a hearing to determine whether England will face as many as 19 charges of abuse and violating Army regulations at a court-martial.
Three members of England's MP unit testified by telephone of England's erratic work habits and propensity for breaking the rules, including unauthorized late-night visits to Tier 1, where her romantic interest, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., worked the night shift. Graner has also been charged with abuse of detainees.
During those visits, England allegedly abused prisoners and was pictured in digital photographs with detainees posed in sexually humiliating situations.
England's lawyers have argued that she was operating on orders from military intelligence officials who wanted the detainees broken down for interrogations.
Chief Warrant Officer Edward Rivas, who coordinated interrogations for military intelligence at the prison, said MPs were not employed to rough up detainees and instead were asked to perform passive duties such as monitoring and imposing sleep management programs. Rivas added that he believed the controversial tactic of using unmuzzled dogs during interrogations was imposed in a "very, very limited" manner. "That was one of the things that had to go all the way to the top, sir," Rivas testified by telephone from Iraq.