Torture of detainees in Iraq authorized, routine, say US soldiers
By Irish Sun
Sun" -- -- Torture and other abuses against
detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq were authorized and routine, even
after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, according to new accounts from
A Human Rights Watch report released Sunday contains first-hand
accounts by U.S. military personnel of abuses at an off-limits
facility at Baghdad airport, and at other detention centers
In the 53-page report, "No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers' Accounts of
Detainee Abuse in Iraq," soldiers describe how detainees were
routinely subjected to severe beatings, painful stress positions,
severe sleep deprivation, and exposure to extreme cold and hot
temperatures. The accounts come from interviews conducted by Human
Rights Watch, supplemented by memoranda and sworn statements
contained in declassified documents.
"Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and
that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to
talk," said John Sifton, the author of the report and the senior
researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch.
"These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse
in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional, on the contrary, it was
condoned and commonly used."
The accounts reveal that detainee abuse was an established and
apparently authorized part of the detention and interrogation
processes in Iraq for much of 2003 through 2005. They also suggest
that soldiers who sought to report abuse were rebuffed or ignored.
The Human Rights Watch report comes at a time when Bush
administration officials and congressional leaders are hotly
debating the applicability of the Geneva Conventions to detainee
treatment. The report provides vivid demonstration of the abuses
that result when these basic international standards are ignored.
Some of the most serious abuses detailed in the report concern a
special task force, which was called at various times Task Force 20,
Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26, and Task Force 145, and was
stationed at an off-limits detention center at the Baghdad airport,
called Camp Nama.
The report also describes serious abuses at a facility near Mosul
airport, and at a base near al-Qaim, on the Syrian border.
According to soldiers' accounts, detainees at Camp Nama were in
violation of international law and not registered with the
International Committee of the Red Cross. They were regularly
stripped naked and subjected to beatings, forced exercises, severe
sleep deprivation, and various forms of degrading and humiliating
An interrogator who served at Camp Nama told Human Rights Watch that
the leadership of his interrogation unit encouraged abuse. "People
wanted to go, go, go harsh on everybody," he said. "They thought
that was their job and that's what they needed to do, and do it
The accounts given by soldiers reveal that many abusive techniques
were authorized by the military chain of command. An interrogator
posted at a facility near Mosul in 2004 told of a case in which the
officer in charge of his interrogation unit told him and other
interrogators to use abusive techniques on a set of detainees. The
officer reportedly said, "Look, this is what we are gonna do - we're
gonna keep them up all night long, we're gonna keep them on their
knees and we're not gonna let them sleep."
"He [the MI officer] was very specific about it. He didn't say, 'I
want you guys to go nuts on these guys,' but he was very specific
about what he wanted. Later, we had a few dogs on these guys too to
intimidate the detainees, and all the whole thing.... [The MI
officer] said, you know, 'I've got these dog handlers, these MPs,
they are going to come in and you're gonna use them in the
interrogation.' We were making these guys do MPT [exercise], which
were pretty rough on them. And the stretch positions were pretty
rough on them too, you know,like kneeling in the gravel, walking on
your knees in the gravel, having them stand with outstretched arms
with water bottles in [their] hands for extended periods of time.
Crawling through the gravel. And the guards in the prison were
helping with this."
The interrogator stationed at Camp Nama, said the commander of the
interrogation unit there had to authorize the use of the abuse
techniques, but that the authorizations were so common that
interrogators used a template to fill out authorization forms.
"There was an authorization template on a computer, a sheet that you
would print out, or actually just type it in. And it was a
checklist, you would just check what you want to use off, and if you
planned on using a harsh interrogation, you'd just get it signed
off. I never saw a sheet that wasn't signed. It would be signed off
by the commander, whoever that was. He would sign off on that every
time it was done."
In several instances described in the report, detainee abuse was
apparently reported to military leadership in Baghdad and
Washington, but little or no action was taken to stop it. For
instance, an investigation into a detention facility at Mosul
airport in early 2004, initiated after a detainee there had his jaw
broken, revealed that detainees at Mosul were regularly subjected to
abuse. However, no action was taken to punish wrongdoers, and an
interrogator stationed there described serious abuse continuing
through 2004. A detainee died while undergoing interrogation at the
facility in December 2003; another died in April 2004.
Abuses also continued at Camp Nama through much of 2004, even after
various military officials registered complaints about abuse at the
facility. Col. Stuart A. Herrington, a retired military intelligence
officer, was brought to Iraq to assess intelligence gathering. He
informed Gen. Barbara Fast, the chief of military intelligence in
Iraq, in a memorandum that Task Force 121 was abusing detainees and
not registering them either in the military's detention records or
with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Herrington concluded, "It seems clear that TF 121 needs to be reined
in with respect to its treatment of detainees." Despite this
warning, abuses by the task force continued.
Human Rights Watch said that the new report shows how soldiers who
felt abusive practices were wrong or illegal faced significant
obstacles at every turn when they attempted to report or expose the
abuses. For example, an MP guard at the facility near al-Qaim, who
complained to an officer about beatings and other abuse he
witnessed, was told, "You need to go ahead and drop this, sergeant."
The guard told Human Rights Watch, "It was repeatedly emphasized to
me that this was not a wise course of action to pursue. 'You don't
want to take this inquiry anywhere else,' kind of thing. 'You should
definitely drop this; this is not something you wanna do to
In another instance, after an interrogator complained about abuse at
a facility near the Baghdad airport, commanders asked military
lawyers to conduct a Power Point presentation for interrogators.
During the presentation, the lawyers instructed the interrogators,
erroneously, that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the
detainees at their facility, and that the techniques they were using
"They told us that they're enemy combatants, they're not POWs, and
so we can do all this stuff to them and so forth," the interrogator
Human Rights Watch has previously condemned Iraqi insurgent groups
for routinely violating international humanitarian law, carrying out
abductions and attacks against civilians and humanitarian aid
workers, and detonating hundreds of bombs in bazaars, mosques and
other civilian areas. Human Rights Watch has stated that those
responsible for violations, including the leaders of these groups,
should, if captured, be investigated and prosecuted for violations
of Iraqi law and the laws of war.
"The crimes of insurgents are no excuse," said Sifton. "Abuses by
one side in a conflict, no matter how vile, do not justify
violations by the other side. This is a fundamental principle of the
laws of war."
Human Rights Watch said that the report showed that criminal
investigations of abuses need to follow the military chain of
command, rather than focusing on low-level soldiers. To date, not a
single military intelligence officer has been court-martialed in
connection with abuse allegations in Iraq. Human Rights Watch says
it is unaware of any criminal investigations into wrongdoing by
officers overseeing interrogations and detention operations in Iraq.
The organization Sunday called on the U.S. Congress to appoint an
independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the true scope of
detainee abuse in Iraq, the complicity of higher-level officials,
and the systemic flaws that make it difficult for soldiers to report
abuses they witness. Human Rights Watch also called on the president
to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate and prosecute
the perpetrators of abuse, including the military and civilian
leaders who authorized or condoned abuse.
"It is now clear that leaders were responsible for abuses that
occurred in Iraq," Sifton said. "It's time for them to be held
© Irish Sun