Harshest detainee handling banned

Army chief in Iraq bars coercive interrogations

Certain other practices limited

May 15, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Under a barrage of international and domestic criticism, the top U.S. commander in Iraq has barred virtually all coercive interrogation, such as forcing prisoners to crouch for long periods or depriving them of sleep, the Pentagon announced yesterday.

The commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, will still consider requests to use less severe techniques such as holding prisoners in isolation for more than 30 days, according to a senior Central Command official who briefed reporters yesterday.

The general has approved 25 such requests since October, the official said, but will deny requests to use harsher methods.

"Simply, we will not even entertain a request, so don't even send it up for a review," a senior Central Command official said.

Previously, certain interrogation techniques were supposed to be used only with the general's explicit approval. Sanchez issued the guidelines Thursday, the same day that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Baghdad and to Abu Ghraib prison, where the worst abuses occurred, in a bid to quiet the furor over the abuse scandal.

Rumsfeld has said that the U.S. military in Iraq was abiding by the Geneva Conventions and that the mistreatment was the work of a few. But the International Committee for the Red Cross had warned U.S. officials for months that Iraqi prisoners were being abused in U.S.-run prisons.

In cases of abuse at one detention center outside Baghdad, Camp Cropper, the Red Cross made formal complaints with U.S. commanders, according to documents and interviews.

The detention facility, on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport, appears to have served as an incubator for the acts of humiliation that were inflicted months later on Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. At both sites, the mistreatment has been linked to interrogations overseen by the Army's 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, based in Wiesbaden, Germany.

The alleged abuses at Camp Cropper during last May and June were severe enough to have prompted formal complaints to U.S. commanders from visiting officials of the Red Cross.

In early July 2003, after several visits to Camp Cropper, where they interviewed Iraqi prisoners, officials of the Red Cross cited at least 50 incidents of abuse reported to have taken place in a part of the prison under the control of military interrogators.

In one example given to U.S. officers in Baghdad that month by Red Cross officials, a prisoner said he had been beaten during interrogation, as part of an ordeal in which he was hooded; cuffed; threatened with torture and death; urinated on; kicked in the head, lower back and groin; "force-fed a baseball which was tied into the mouth using a scarf and deprived of sleep for four consecutive days."

A medical examination of the prisoner by the committee's doctors "revealed hematoma in the lower back, blood in urine, sensory loss in the right hand due to tight handcuffing with flexi-cuffs, and a broken rib," said a final report by the Red Cross panel, presented to U.S. officials in February 2004.

After the Red Cross complaints, the interrogation site at Camp Cropper was shut down, senior military officials said, though they declined to discuss the report or to say whether it had prompted that move. "A decision was made to close the camp and consolidate at Abu Ghraib," a senior officer said.

It remains unclear whether any disciplinary action was taken at the time against members of the 205th Brigade.

The brigade commander, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, who took command at the end of June 2003, was later put in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib and was implicated by the Army's investigation as being "either directly or indirectly responsible" for the actions of those who mistreated and humiliated Iraqi prisoners there.

The changes announced yesterday by Sanchez appear to affect only operations in Iraq and would not change methods at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where harsher approaches have been authorized.

The Army's top intelligence officer, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, had presented to U.S. senators this week a list of techniques, some of which were approved for use on all prisoners and others that required Sanchez's approval. The chart also listed safeguards for interrogations, including a warning that "approaches must always be humane and lawful."

Senators said that Alexander had characterized the one-page chart as a product of the U.S. military high command in Baghdad. But the Central Command official disclosed yesterday that the document was actually produced last October by the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

The Central Command official also said that until last fall, commanders did not have an interrogation policy specific to Iraq, relying instead on principles in an Army field manual.

That changed after Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the head of detention operations at Guantanamo Bay, visited Iraqi prisons in September and recommended changes that included the creation of a specific interrogation policy for prisons in Iraq.

An interim policy, from Sept. 14 to Oct. 12, 2003, spelled out approved interrogation techniques for all prisoners, a separate list of harsher tactics that required Sanchez's approval, and the list of safeguards.

A revised policy took effect Oct. 12 that dropped the listing of the approaches needing the general's approval.

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