Families of the 372nd tormented by stories of POW abuses in Iraq

Soldier detailed problems in journal sent to father in Md.

April 30, 2004|By Ariel Sabar, Gus Sentementes and Jeff Barker | Ariel Sabar, Gus Sentementes and Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND - For months, members of the 372nd Military Police Company harbored a terrible secret.

The Army Reserve unit based near here - whose service in Iraq made many of its members hometown heroes - had boasted six months ago of its credentials for a new security assignment at a prison west of Baghdad.

"We are relying heavily on our soldiers with correctional [officer] experience," said their newsletter, published in the local newspaper. "The regular Army can't touch us with experience."

But months later, the prison detail was disgraced in news reports across the world.

The Army said yesterday that 14 of the 17 soldiers implicated in an investigation of abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison are from the 372nd. They face either criminal or administrative charges.

To the proud reservists and their families, the publication of the allegations - that Iraqi prisoners were tormented and humiliated - was like opening a dark, musty room that had long ago been sealed off.

Among the few who had been hearing reports of the investigation since January was Ivan L. Frederick, 76, a World War II veteran from Mountain Lake Park in far Western Maryland.

His son, Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick, has been recommended for court-martial by a hearing officer. The final decision rests with the top American commander in Iraq.

In neat, handwritten block letters, the son wrote a journal about his Iraq experience and sent a copy to his father.

Sergeant Frederick, who described the abuse Wednesday night on the CBS program 60 Minutes II, says in the journal that he saw Iraqi prisoners placed in intolerable conditions.

"Prisoners were forced to live in damp cool cells," says an entry said to be from January. "MI [Military Intelligence] has also instructed us to place prisoners in an isolation cell with little or no clothes. No toilet or running water, no ventilation or window for as much as three days."

A `different culture'

In the journal, Frederick says the unit was in a strange, almost unfathomable land. Like improperly supervised children, he says, members wanted to do their jobs but were uncertain exactly what was expected of them.

In civilian life, Frederick is an officer at a correctional center in Dillwyn, Va. His wife, Martha, works there, too, in the training department.

But his journal says his background wasn't enough to prepare him for his tenure in Iraq. His unit was mobilized in February 2003.

"I have had training dealing with convicted felons of the U.S.," the journal says. "I have never had any training dealing with POWs, civilian internees or detained persons. The prisoners here are of a complete different culture."

He wrote that prisoners were abused and forced to sleep in tents wet with rain.

"A prisoner with a clearly visible mental condition was shot with non-lethal rounds for standing near the fence singing, when a lesser means of force could have been used," he wrote.

"It's really very upsetting to me that the military is doing this," his father said. "They put him in there with no experience taking care of enemy prisoners of war."

Interviewed at his home, the white-haired man came to the door with a drawn expression to defend his son.

"I don't think he did those things unless he was ordered to do so," Frederick said.

`Stupid, kid things'

Another reservist, Lynndie R. England, 21, told her mother in January about potential problems at the Iraq prison.

England grew up in a trailer down a dirt road behind a saloon and a sheep farm in Fort Ashby, W.Va., a one-stoplight town about 13 miles south of Cumberland.

Yesterday afternoon, her mother, Terrie England, pressed her fingers to her lips when a reporter showed her a newspaper photo of her daughter smiling in front of what a caption said were nude Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

"Oh, my God," she said, her body stiffening as she sat on a cooler on the trailer's small stoop.

"I can't get over this," she said, taking a drag on her cigarette.

Lynndie England, a railroad worker's daughter who made honor roll at the high school near here, had enlisted in the 372nd for college money and the chance to widen her small-town horizons. In January, however, she gave her family the first inkling that something had gone woefully wrong.

"I just want you to know that there might be some trouble," she warned her mother in a phone call from Baghdad. "But I don't want you to worry."

Lynndie England said she was under orders to say no more. The military has told the family nothing; all the Englands know is that she has been detained, apparently in connection with the unit's alleged misconduct at the prison.

"Whether she's charged or not, I don't know," Terrie England said.

This was not supposed to be the fate of a girl who grew up hunting turkey or killing time with her sister at the local Dairy Dip, making wisecracks about the cars whizzing past.

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