U.S. accused of kidnappings in Iraq
Congress demands that the Pentagon release documents that could show
U.S. forces kidnapped family members of terror suspects.
By Mark Benjamin
07/15/06 "Salon" -- -- | Congress has demanded that Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld hand over a raft of documents to Congress
that could substantiate allegations that U.S. forces have tried to
break terror suspects by kidnapping and mistreating their family
members. Rumsfeld has until 5 p.m. Friday to comply.
It now appears that kidnapping, scarcely covered by the media, and
absent in the major military investigations of detainee abuse, may
have been systematically employed by U.S. troops. Salon has obtained
Army documents that show several cases where U.S. forces abducted
terror suspects’ families. After he was thrown in prison, Cpl.
Charles Graner, the alleged ringleader at Abu Ghraib, told
investigators the military routinely kidnapped family members to
force suspects to turn themselves in.
A House subcommittee led by Connecticut Republican Christopher Shays
took the unusual step last month of issuing Rumsfeld a subpoena for
the documents after months of stonewalling by the Pentagon. Shays
had requested the documents in a March 7 letter. "There was no
response" to the letter, a frustrated Shays told Salon. "We are not
going to back off this."
The subpoena demands that the Pentagon turn over documents about
apparent retribution by the military against Army Spc. Samuel
Provance, a whistle-blower, who sought to expose abuse at the
infamous prison by talking to military investigators and the press.
Following his revelations, the Army demoted Provance from sergeant
and revoked his security clearance.
The subpoena also includes a separate demand, at the behest of
Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.,
for any documents that might show that U.S. forces were
systematically detaining family members of suspects at Abu Ghraib,
and mistreating them to force suspects to talk.
In a hearing before Shays' Government Reform subcommittee last
February, Provance testified that the Army had retaliated against
him. Provance also made the disturbing allegation that interrogators
broke an Iraqi general, Hamid Zabar, by imprisoning and abusing his
frail 16-year-old son. Waxman was shocked. "Do you think this
practice was repeated with other children?" he asked Provance. "I
don't see why it would not have been, sir," Provance replied.
Zabar's son had been apprehended with his father and held at Abu
Ghraib, though the boy hadn't done anything wrong. "He was useless,"
Provance said about the boy in a phone interview with Salon from
Heidelberg, Germany, where he is still in the Army. "He was of no
But, Provance said, interrogators grew frustrated when the boy's
father, Zabar, wouldn't talk, despite a 14-hour interrogation. So
they stripped Zabar's son naked and doused him with mud and water.
They put him in the open back of a truck and drove around in the
frigid January night air until the boy began to freeze. Zabar was
then made to look at his suffering son.
"During the interrogation, they could not get him to talk," Provance
recalled. "They said, 'OK, we are going to let you see your son.'
They allow him to see his son in this shivering, freezing, naked
state," Provance said. "That just totally broke his heart and that
is when he said, 'I'll tell you what you want to know.'"
Provance said the boy was timid and afraid. "He was so skinny and so
frail, and he was scared out of his mind," Provance remembered. "He
was so skinny the handcuffs would not fit securely on his wrist. I
had to put this green sandbag on his head. I just felt like a
horrible person doing this."
Provance was not an interrogator; at that time, he worked on a
security detail at Abu Ghraib. He said he did not see firsthand the
boy being abused in the truck, although an interrogator working on
the general's case later explained the abuse to Provance in detail.
Provance's account does not appear to be an isolated allegation. It
echoes similar accusations at Abu Ghraib and across Iraq. In an
interview with military investigators conducted after he was
imprisoned, Graner called kidnapping, in addition to detainee abuse,
"the other big Geneva Convention violation" going on at the prison.
"They were picking up, you know, Joe Snuffy's wife to get Joe
Snuffy," Graner explained to military investigators. "So, more or
less, we're holding this female with no charges, which happened a
Graner did not say in the interview who was doing the kidnapping.
There were a broad range of forces operating at Abu Ghraib,
including military Special Operations troops and CIA operatives.
Similar allegations have shown that kidnapping may have been a
systematic practice. Special Operations troops, working with an
elite unit called Task Force 6-26, allegedly abducted the
28-year-old wife of a suspected Iraqi terrorist during a raid on a
house in Tarmiya, Iraq, in May 2004, the month after the Abu Ghraib
scandal broke. That is according to a memorandum buried in thousands
of pages of documents obtained by the ACLU through the Freedom of
Information Act. The memorandum, a formal complaint titled "Report
of Violations of the Geneva Conventions," was filed in June 2004 by
a 14-year veteran intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence
Agency. The Department of Defense blacked out the officer's name.
In the memorandum, the intelligence officer said the kidnapping was
planned. "During the pre-operation brief it was recommended by TF
[Task Force] personnel that if the wife were present, she be
detained and held in order to leverage the primary target's
surrender," the officer recalled, stressing that he objected to the
tactic. Later, the wife was indeed present when the raid took place.
"I determined that she could provide no actionable intelligence
leading to the arrest of her husband," the officer recalled.
"Despite my protest, a raid team leader detained her anyway." She
was held for two days.
Little has been reported about kidnapping in comparison to the
exposure of the detainee abuse depicted in the photographs from Abu
Ghraib. But there have been isolated press reports.
In 2003, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush died in U.S. custody in
northern Iraq after suffering beatings and interrogations. He died
when he was stuffed into a sleeping bag and straddled by Chief
Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. In January 2006, Welshofer
was reprimanded for Mowhoush's death. His son, Mohammed, told the
Washington Post that month that U.S. forces first kidnapped him and
his three brothers from their home. Mohammed was 15 at that time and
claimed he was not an insurgent. "They said if my father does not
come [turn himself in] you will never see your family back,"
Mohammad told the Post. The article stated that classified documents
show the general "later surrendered in an attempt to free his sons."
Congressional staff said the Department of Defense so far has not
adequately responded to the subpoena for documents about Provance or
kidnapping at Abu Ghraib. The Pentagon claimed that Shays'
subcommittee already had everything it needed about detainee abuse.
"The Department has already provided much of this information to the
Congress -- mainly to the House Armed Services Committee, a
committee of oversight," Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said in an
e-mailed statement. "We have delivered to the House Government
Reform Committee all of the documents that can be provided and are
appropriate to provide." Ballesteros added that, "Humane treatment
is and always has been the Department of Defense standard for the
treatment of detainees in its custody."
But staff from both parties on the House Government Reform Committee
said that won't do. Shays, a pro-war incumbent facing a tough
election this fall, told Salon that he had no intention of backing
down. "If the administration wants more power, then oversight of it
has to be more aggressive," he said. He lamented that congressional
oversight of detainee issues should have been stiff all along. "I
just wish we had been on top of this issue sooner," he said with
Congressional experts agree. "Oversight has been moribund during the
first five years of President Bush's terms," said Charles Tiefer, a
professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, who worked
as solicitor and deputy general counsel of the U.S. House of
Representatives from 1984 to 1995. "Nowhere has it been more
moribund than with respect to the Pentagon."
There is no paper trail that shows that kidnapping or abusing the
family of suspects might have been official Department of Justice or
Pentagon policy. It is not mentioned in any of the Bush
administration interrogation memos that have so far surfaced in the
press. In late 2002, commanders at the military prison at Guantánamo
Bay did request authority, during interrogations, for "the use of
scenarios designed to convince the detainee that death or severely
painful consequence are imminent for him and/or his family."
In a December 2002 memorandum, Rumsfeld rejected a "blanket
approval" of that interrogation technique, but did not rule it out
-- By Mark Benjamin
Copyright ©2006 Salon Media Group, Inc.