The military's mission at Abu Ghraib was inadequately planned almost from conception. It was subordinated to political and intelligence goals and bogged down at every level by inadequate resources and hostile conditions, according to classified documents reviewed and now posted by the Center for Public Integrity.
The documents, the first installment of background materials from Army Major General Anthony Taguba’s investigation into abuses of military detainees in Iraq, were provided to the Center by Rolling Stone contributor Osha Gray Davidson. The Center plans to post the second installment of the documents later this month.
Including high-level policy memos, special investigations and witness testimony, the documents describe attacks, prisoner riots, interrogation methods and the torture and deaths of detainees. They reveal that the torture and abuse of inmates at the prison by military police, exposed in April 2004 news accounts of the classified report, took place under the guidance of military intelligence with little direct supervision from overburdened senior officers.
Currently, the U.S. government has detained thousands of individuals in Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries suspected of ties to terrorism. Bush administration officials have suspended basic human rights protections, including provisions of the Geneva Conventions, and have detained U.S. citizens and other individuals and approved new harsh interrogation techniques. Incidents at Abu Ghraib and other locations have included sleep deprivation, hooding of prisoners, forced nudity and violent sexual abuse, the use of dogs on prisoners and beatings. Military intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency and other, unnamed agencies interrogating prisoners were found to be involved in prisoner abuse, but government investigations conducted so far—some of which have documented the similarity of abuses in different detention areas to the government’s proposed interrogation techniques—have absolved high officials of direct responsibility.
The Taguba report, though publicly available, is still classified. The CIA, conducting its own investigation, has not released any information, and the U.S. government has stalled Freedom of Information Act requests for the background materials for the Taguba and other investigations. The documents being posted by the Center offer the most complete, first-hand account ever made available.
The 800th Military Police Brigade assumed responsibility for all Iraqi detention operations during the summer of 2003 under a new commander, reservist Brigadier General Janis Karpinski. Mobilized since January, Karpinski’s unit was already significantly understaffed and many of its soldiers were beyond their initial six-month tours of duty. The Brigade’s 320th Battalion, assigned to Abu Ghraib under Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Phillabaum, had also already been investigated, and four soldiers charged, for a prior incident of prisoner abuse at Camp Bucca, located in the south of Iraq near Umm Qasr.
Taguba cited Karpinski’s poor leadership in several areas in his report, including stating that though Karpinski claimed to have visited detention facilities, her appointment calendar showed such visits were infrequent. However, the testimony of her chief aide, Lieutenant Elvis Mabry, indicates that she was frequently visiting facilities prior to November and the calendar he provided, though hard to read, shows at least nine visits from June through October. Taguba also blamed Karpinski for not removing Phillabaum after she temporarily relieved him of command in October, though she stated that she lacked sufficient capable officers and had little choice.
“Boots on the Ground”
The 320th Battalion assumed operations at Abu Ghraib in July 2003, taking over from another MP unit. An investigative report from June, known as a 15-6, reported a riot during the second week in one of the two outside camps housing prisoners, Camp Vigilant. Prisoners threw rocks and tent poles, protesting conditions, including insufficient water with local temperatures running well over one hundred degrees. Subduing them, the MPs killed at least one prisoner and injured several others. A prisoner also escaped through a fence by spreading apart the concertina wires with cardboard. The report explained that the prisoners slept on the cardboard and that “this was good for preventive medicine.” Another riot occurred in November in the second camp, Ganci, when an incident quickly spread to engulf all eight compounds. According to the serious incident report filed, guards fired upon the prisoners, killing four and injuring eight.
Designed to operate from the rear beyond hostilities, the Battalion dealt with almost daily external assaults. During July, the 280-acre prison complex was the target of numerous assaults including seven mortar attacks during a two-week period as well as rocket propelled grenade attacks and several incidents of gunfire. Other serious incident reports from the compound describe a mortar attack on August 16th that injured 62 prisoners and killed three and another attack on an outside military intelligence tent on September 20 that severely injured 12 soldiers and killed one.
The prison faced numerous internal security issues as well, relying on contractors and Iraqi Correctional Officers. In an incident on November 24, an Iraqi prisoner in the wing used for security detainees fired on Sergeant William Cathcart and several other soldiers, with a pistol smuggled in by one of the Iraqi guards. According to squad leader Sergeant Robert Elliott, an investigation would later conclude that several of the guards were Fedayeen operatives. A “SPOT” report from January 30, 2004, also reported the failure of 15 Iraqi guards to show up for work.
Human Rights Violations and Early Warnings
Amidst the chaos, members of the 205th military intelligence brigade were establishing interrogation operations, eventually using part of the main prison building, nicknamed the “hard site,” and two sheds for interrogation of prisoners of special security value. The January 2004 Criminal Investigation Division investigation and depositions that preceded Taguba’s report would document that most of the alleged prisoner abuse occurred in these areas. The investigation—which readers should be warned is extremely graphic in its details—lists the involvement of more than 10 soldiers and civilian contractors in abusing more than 20 detainees, including repeated, severe beatings—some of injured detainees, as well as nudity, sexual abuse including raping and sodomizing detainees, forced food and sleep deprivation and various methods of humiliation.
Much of the abuse was conducted by members of the 372nd military police company who arrived at the prison in September, but the documents record the presence, direction and participation of military intelligence as well. They also describe members of covert intelligence agencies and military units hiding some detainees, including one who died in custody, from human rights organizations in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
An August 2004 report in the Lancet accused medical personnel of complicity in abuses, and the documents provide some new support for those charges. One detainee, for example, received several beatings, had his kidney, back and legs jumped on, and was sodomized with a police baton. A comparison of detainee identification numbers with serious incident reports reveals that a detainee with the same number was evacuated on December 2 to a combat army surgical hospital on suspicion of a ruptured appendix. Another detainee, shot during the incident with Sergeant Cathcart on November 24, stated that he was beaten on his injured legs, a statement corroborated by Sergeant Reuben Layton. Layton, who witnessed the beating by Corporal Charles Graner while treating the detainee, said that he did not report that and other incidents because he knew military intelligence was involved in some of them and thought they were sanctioned.
CID testimony would also reveal the use of military dogs in interrogations, including an incident in which a prisoner was bitten. Witnesses indicated that Colonel Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, approved the use of those dogs for interrogations, contrary to his statements in his deposition. In fact, a November 30th memo from Pappas to coalition commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez specifically requests the use of muzzled dogs in an interrogation. Sanchez would state that he never specifically approved a request to use dogs in an interrogation.
Many of the problems eventually revealed at Abu Ghraib were uncovered in a November 6th evaluation by Major General Donald Ryder. Visiting military detention centers run by the 800th, Ryder’s team found that human rights, health, sanitation, and security conditions met “minimal standards,” but that most units were undermanned, noting that “the prison staff lacks resources to provide basic necessities,” and that “current physical lay-out conditions in many facilities are abysmal.” The team found major sanitation problems at Abu Ghraib, including trash-strewn compounds (one had even been built above a disintegrating landfill), and flimsy tents that provided little protection from the weather and enemy attacks. Their report suggested that future detention operations at the prison were not sustainable, finding that “the area is not conducive to the long term management of detainees.”
Ryder also pointed out that units “did not receive corrections specific training” during mobilization. While he didn’t find that military police units were deliberately applying inappropriate confinement procedures, he did find “a wide variance in standards.” Units with corrections officers were singled out as more effective in running prisons, finding that “military police generally lack the requisite institutional knowledge.” Noting that “management of multiple disparate groups of detained persons in a single location by members of the same unit invites confusion about handling, processing and treatment,” Ryder’s report recommended segregating different detainees and consolidating security detainees at Abu Ghraib. He also recommended against using military police in interrogations or procedures, “clearly separating the actions of the guards from those of the military intelligence personnel.”
Setting the conditions
An investigation by Major General Geoffrey Miller reveals the interest of high-level officials in obtaining valuable intelligence from the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq. Miller, the head of intelligence and interrogation operations at Guantanamo Bay, arrived in late August with interrogation experts from Guantanamo, military intelligence and the CIA. Seeking to “rapidly exploit internees for actionable intelligence,” the team made three main recommendations: that interrogation operations needed a “unified strategy to detain, interrogate, and report information,” that on-site analysts be integrated into interrogation operations, and that detention operations must “act as an enabler for interrogation.” Calling for “one command authority,” the report specified establishing a center to “consolidate both detention and strategic interrogation operations and result in synergy between MP and MI resources,” and recommended using military police to set interrogation conditions. The report also noted a lack of both written guidelines and effective detainee processing and release procedures, calling for expanded training and procedures to create a “safe, secure and humane environment that supports the expeditious collection of intelligence.” The team, concluding its evaluation on September 9th, predicted a “significant improvement” in intelligence operations by early October.
Following the Miller evaluation, two memos on interrogation rules and procedures were issued by Sanchez. The second, issued October 12, 2003, was reportedly penned after Central Command disallowed some interrogation procedures detailed in the earlier September 14 memo. Approved interrogation techniques listed in the second memo included segregation of detainees and deliberately trying to frighten them. Sanchez instructed interrogators to “completely control the interrogation environment,” including the detainee’s food, clothing and shelter, and to work in “close cooperation with detaining units.” Listed safeguards to protect detainees included allowing adequate sleep, food and water and muzzling any military working dogs. The use of techniques that were not listed by the general required his approval and review by the Coalition’s judge advocate.
Meanwhile, efforts to fulfill the recommendations and goals of the Miller evaluation were proceeding. In September, intelligence operations were consolidated under the Joint Interrogation and Detention Center at the prison and the head of the center, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, told investigators that the interrogation center had been put together at the direction of the White House specifically to consolidate intelligence information regarding possible terrorist activity. As the head of the JIDC, Jordan was questioned by Taguba about his knowledge of abuses that took place in the facility and told Taguba that he had little knowledge of abuses and hardly set foot in the facility, a statement contradicted by the testimony of numerous other witnesses, including Sergeant Shannon Snider, who wrote in a sworn statement that Jordan visited the interrogation wing “almost daily.” In spite of Colonel Pappas’s role as the overall head of military intelligence at the facility, Jordan would also tell investigators that he acted in a liaison role and ultimately reported to Major General Barbara Fast, the head of intelligence operations at Coalition headquarters.
Aggravating accountability issues, military intelligence was given control over the base on November 19th—that in spite of Ryder’s specific recommendations to clearly separate detention and intelligence operations. A briefly worded order assigned control of the facility to Colonel Pappas. That order further muddied the waters regarding overall responsibility for the base. Brigadier General Karpinski, for example, insisted that it gave overall control to Colonel Pappas. Pappas disagreed, claiming in his depositions that he was solely responsible for issues relating to the defense of the facility and the security of its detainees and personnel. The testimony of other soldiers also reveals considerable confusion over the extent of military intelligence authority. Sergeant Elliot would tell investigators that command authority “just depended [on] who was around at the time.”
Both Pappas and Jordan testified to receiving considerable pressure to extract information from detainees, which led to friction with some of the MPs assigned to escort prisoners to the interrogation area. Shortly after the 19th, MPs stopped officially escorting prisoners, though different parties gave different reasons for that action in testimony. Karpinski and Major Michael Sheridan both testified that in addition to the manpower issues mentioned by Pappas and Jordan, he stopped escorts after personally witnessing the interrogation of a naked male prisoner, an incident he reported to both the 320th MP Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Phillabaum, and to the 372nd Company commander, Captain Donald Reese.
Major Sheridan and other interviewed soldiers also testified that they tried to obtain written guidance from interrogation officers on proper limits to interrogations. Snider of the 372nd MP Company told investigators that he unsuccessfully asked for written guidelines from several military intelligence officers including Captain Carolyn Wood, Chief Warrant Officer Edward Rivas and the Judge Advocate for military intelligence at the base. Fellow company member Sergeant Keith Comer agreed, writing in his sworn statement that military intelligence produced very little in writing.
Lieutenant Colonel Jordan indicated in his testimony that Colonel Pappas was similarly reluctant to keep a record regarding “ghost detainees”—prisoners held without record on behalf of various intelligence agencies and special military units, including the CIA, the Iraqi Survey Group and Delta Force. Jordan claimed that, in a meeting with Pappas, he, Captain Wood, Chief Rivas and Major David DiNenna of the 320th MP Battalion all asked for a memo detailing agreements to hide the OGA detainees (OGA is short for “Other Government Agencies,” a euphemism for the CIA). Jordan also revealed his role in persuading Red Cross inspectors on a second visit to the prison that their safety would be easier to guarantee if they interviewed detainees in a central location instead of their cells. It would later be revealed that several detainees were hidden in interrogation cells from the Red Cross during this visit.
Despite efforts to hide documentation about the ghost detainees, some officers outside of Abu Ghraib became aware that prisoners were being kept off the books. Legal officer Colonel Ralph Sabatino, a judge advocate working with the Coalition Provisional Authority, told investigators that he observed 11 secret security internees when he visited the prison security wing in early January 2004, undocumented in violation of the Geneva Conventions. He also recounted an embarrassing diplomatic incident, later publicized, of three detainees sought by the Saudi government who were hidden at the prison for several weeks.
Shortly after Sabatino’s visit, Specialist Joseph Darby of the 372nd MP Company alerted Army investigators to the numerous incidents of prisoner abuse that had been taking place in the interrogation facilities at Abu Ghraib. At that point, according to a report submitted by the 205th, Abu Ghraib’s main building housed 865 prisoners, while the interrogation operation included 43 detained alleged Al Qaeda and Ansar al-Islam operatives. That month, Major General Taguba was ordered to begin an investigation, which commenced with his appointment at the end of January.
On September 15, a federal district court judge upheld an ACLU demand for the release of records of prisoner abuse, ordering the Defense Department to produce or identify them by October 15, 2004.
How we did it
The primary sources used for this report were the documents included as part of Major General Anthony Taguba’s investigation, supplemented with information from news organization accounts of other documents, memos and testimony generated as a part of the Bush administration campaign following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The Center reviewed the documents, provided by Osha Gray Davidson (for his website go to www.oshadavidson.com) numbering more than 1,200 pages, in order to exclude sensitive information. Any information in the documents that we deemed could be used to identify or describe a detainee or informant was redacted to protect them from possible reprisals. Sensitive personal information of service members and contractors, such as social security numbers, was also redacted. Seven service members so far have been formally charged with involvement in prisoner abuse, and their identities as well as the allegations against them have been included. Many other individuals alleged to have participated in the abuse have yet to be charged and the Center removed their identities in cases where they were charged with direct involvement in prisoner abuse or other illegal acts and in cases where they were accused of actions that, while outside the scope of investigations into prisoner abuse, could nonetheless damage their reputations if made public.
The Center took steps to guarantee that sensitive information of militarily strategic or intelligence value was protected. An outside expert was consulted on documents that might fall under this category. Several phone calls on different days were also made prior to release to officials in the Defense Department and the Army, informing them of the nature of the documents and of the Center’s intent to publish them and offering to identify specific documents. As this report was going to press, the Center received notification from the office of Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone that they were declassifying some documents related to prisoner abuse. The Center was given no indication of which documents would be declassified.