The U.S. Army's internal investigation into the abuse of detainees in Iraq cast a new spotlight yesterday on alleged wrongdoing by a government agency that has until now turned aside external inquiries -- from the military as well as the media -- into the actions of its personnel in Iraq: the CIA.
In unusually harsh criticism of an allied agency, the report by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay concluded that the CIA's detention and interrogation practices in Iraq "led to a loss of accountability, abuse, reduced interagency cooperation, and unhealthy mystique that . . . poisoned the atmosphere" in the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, in which detainees were mistreated.
At a news conference, Fay went further by echoing the complaints of an independent panel on Tuesday that the CIA failed to cooperate fully with the military's effort to get to the bottom of the detainee-abuse allegations. He said that after explaining the direction of his inquiry and requesting access to CIA documents and personnel, "they made it very clear to me that they're going to conduct their own thorough, detailed investigation."
But nothing has emerged from the agency, which has repeatedly spurned requests for information about the involvement of its personnel in reported abuse. CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said various inquiries by the CIA's inspector general continue, but no information has been uncovered "that agency personnel were involved in any of the degrading acts depicted in the photos of detainees at Abu Ghraib."
The Army report released yesterday suggests otherwise. In addition to detailing the presence of multiple CIA field officers at Abu Ghraib when an Iraqi detainee was found dead in a shower stall -- an event that was previously reported and photographed -- the report alleges that the CIA was involved in the improper detention of three Saudi medical workers aiding the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
For reasons not explained by Fay's report or by the agency, the three men were imprisoned by the CIA at Abu Ghraib under false names. In this way, they became part of a pool of "ghost detainees" sometimes dropped off at Abu Ghraib by the CIA -- their presence never properly recorded in jailhouse records and their detention kept secret from visiting delegations of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
After a Saudi general was unable to learn the whereabouts of the three people, efforts to locate them were made by L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian official in Iraq; officials at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh; and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. But they were not told the men were in custody. Only when a soldier at Abu Ghraib recalled seeing three men arrive together were they finally tracked down and released, Fay's report states.
The episode is presented as an example of the swaggering style that CIA field officers adopted at Abu Ghraib, a U.S. Army-run prison where officers came and went without revealing their identities. They conducted interrogations without written military authority, using what Fay suggested were more aggressive techniques than permitted under Army rules.
In one example cited by Fay, a CIA officer deliberately drew his pistol and prepared to fire it in the presence of a detainee under interrogation, a clear violation of Army rules that barred weapons in interrogation rooms.
Fay's report said CIA officers were able to convince two key military intelligence officers -- Lt. Col. Stephen L. Jordan, the head of Abu Ghraib's interrogation center, and Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade at the prison -- that the CIA could "operate outside the established local rules and procedures." Fay said Jordan, a civil affairs officer, was personally "fascinated" by the CIA, while Pappas was encouraged to cooperate by Col. Steven Boltz, the second-ranking military intelligence officer in Iraq.
But the CIA's relative impunity contributed to a "loss of accountability" and "encouraged soldiers to deviate from prescribed [interrogation] techniques," according to a report written separately by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and the executive summary he released yesterday with Fay.
Mansfield declined to be drawn into a discussion of the Saudi incident, or to address whether CIA officers operated under a different set of interrogation rules than those promulgated by the Defense Department. But an intelligence official, speaking on the condition that he not be identified, rejected the allegations made by Fay and Jones.
"Does anyone really believe that not registering a handful of prisoners immediately for legitimate reasons led to a climate in which these abuses occurred? That is just ridiculous," the official said. He noted that his remark was not meant to pertain to the Saudis' case, which is among the events under investigation by the CIA's inspector general.
Mansfield said the CIA does not dispute the conclusion by Fay and Jones that Army personnel were confused about the role and authority of CIA personnel at the prison. He also said the agency favors "better prior coordination" in joint military-intelligence operations, including the preparation of written agreements to clarify respective roles.
Fay has said that in addition to CIA officers, Col. Marc Warren, the senior military legal adviser in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top military intelligence official in Iraq, as well as Boltz and Pappas, all played a role in keeping some of the ghost detainees off jailhouse records and hiding them from visiting Red Cross delegations.
His report says that one detainee, a Syrian suspected of having al Qaeda connections whom the Red Cross was not permitted to visit for at least four months, was held for part of the time in a dark cell measuring three feet by six feet and lacking any "window, latrine or water tap, or bedding." The Syrian appears in a previously published picture showing him kneeling, with hands tied behind his back, cowering in front of a snarling Army dog that was straining at the leash.