Other abuses at prison recounted

At hearing for England, intelligence supervisors reveal state of confusion

August 06, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal unfolded one night in January with an anonymous letter and a computer disk filled with photos, but according to testimony yesterday, that tip from a concerned soldier was far from the first hint of mistreatment and discord late last year at the Iraqi prison.

An Army medic, Spc. Helga-Margot Aldape-Moreno, testified that she stumbled last fall upon a scene of naked Iraqi detainees, piled into a pyramid "almost like cheerleaders do," while she was responding to a call one night at the main cellblock.

And an intelligence analyst, Spc. Israel Rivera, recounted finding a similar scene in late October, of naked detainees forced to crawl on the prison floor on their stomachs as U.S. soldiers shouted obscenities.

Two key military intelligence supervisors who testified at a pretrial hearing yesterday for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, one of seven soldiers charged in the abuse scandal, said they never authorized interrogators at Abu Ghraib to strip detainees or use other tactics shown in photographs from the cellblock.

But the testimony of the intelligence supervisors, Capt. Carolyn Wood and Capt. Brent Fitch, also highlighted some of the confusion at Abu Ghraib.

Wood, who oversaw all interrogators, said she only recently became aware that some of her operatives had made detainees assume stress positions, such as handcuffing prisoners to bars that were so high their feet stretched to touch the ground.

Fitch, the top legal adviser to the military intelligence unit, testified that he did not know interrogators were conducting interviews in the cellblock in addition to the official interrogation area that he visited daily.

On the third day of testimony in the case of England, 21, an Army reservist with the Western Maryland-based 372nd Military Police Company, there also were indications that England and the other soldiers accused in the abuse scandal were not the only rogue band at the Abu Ghraib prison, as government lawyers and administration officials have suggested.

Rivera testified that he did not notify officers in his chain of command about the detainee abuse he witnessed. He said he instead told a friend and fellow intelligence analyst, Spc. Hannah Schlegel, who also testified that she did not notify her senior commanders but rather told a senior MP and expected him to investigate.

Rivera also testified yesterday that another military police unit at the facility, the 800th Military Police Brigade, operated a "liquor and prostitution ring" with the help of a local national named "Ali" until it was shut down by a senior intelligence officer, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who oversaw interrogation operations at the prison.

England is, for now, the only soldier accused in the abuse scandal to face court proceedings in the United States. This week's pretrial hearing in North Carolina, expected to conclude today, will determine whether she faces a full court-martial on 19 charges of detainee abuse and indecent acts.

England, who is pregnant by another soldier accused in the scandal, Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr., was transferred from Iraq to Fort Bragg earlier this year.

Much of this week's testimony has focused on England's personal life, with government lawyers casting her as a willful, out-of-control soldier who appears grinning and flashing a jaunty thumbs-up sign in many of the abuse pictures. But one of her attorneys said yesterday's testimony showed that far broader problems at Abu Ghraib went unaddressed while England was made a scapegoat.

"Pfc. Lynndie England is facing punishment that none of these other men are," said Richard A. Hernandez, a civilian lawyer from Colorado.

Yesterday's testimony included the first public statements by Wood, who oversaw interrogators while military intelligence was under pressure late last year to produce information about a rising Iraqi insurgency.

She testified that when Col. Thomas Pappas, who headed military intelligence at the prison, told her he had requested a dog team for the prison late last fall, she was not enthusiastic about their use in interrogations. But Wood said that interrogators had not made any formal requests to use the dog teams before she left the facility in early December.

Wood also said she once disciplined an interrogator for making a detainee strip to his underwear during an interview, and she said she was outraged by the photos of detainee abuse that emerged this year.

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