Training in handling of detainees faulted

Newly released records, show officers reporting deficiencies to superiors

September 16, 2005|By Richard A. Serrano | Richard A. Serrano,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - Army officers in Iraq told their superiors last year that soldiers often lacked the training to handle detainees, did not always understand what constituted abuse and sometimes used techniques on prisoners that they "remembered from movies," according to military records made public yesterday.

In two incidents described in the reports, bound detainees were shot and killed by soldiers. The circumstances were unclear, but officers or Army lawyers said afterward that the killings could have been prevented with better training, better facilities and better understanding by soldiers of rules of engagement.

The episodes were described last year to Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, the Army inspector general, who conducted one of more than a dozen reviews in the aftermath of the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

In reporting his findings to top Army commanders in July 2004, Mikolashek concluded that there were no systemic failures or widespread patterns of detainee abuse.

But according to documents generated for his report, including 1,800 pages of evidence that were obtained and released yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union as part of a lawsuit aimed at obtaining more information about prisoner treatment, Mikolashek was told of many incidents in which poor training and inadequate facilities created an atmosphere that fostered abuse.

Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman, said the documents consist of "Army reports and Army information, where the Army was looking into allegations and sorting out the situation about detainee mistreatment."

The documents do not show widespread abuse, he said, adding, "The Army has looked carefully at each allegation and addressed it very thoroughly."

Since the earliest revelations of sexual abuse and physical mistreatment at Abu Ghraib in January 2004, Boyce said, more than 400 investigations have been made into allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.

Allegations against more than 200 soldiers have led to court-martial proceedings, nonjudicial punishment and other administrative penalties, he said.

Mikolashek concluded in his report that incidents of abuse had not resulted from deficiencies within the Army.

"The Army's leaders and soldiers are effectively conducting detainee operations and providing for the care and security of detainees in an intense operational environment," he wrote. "Based on this inspection, we were unable to identify system failures that resulted in incidents of abuse."

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the newly released documents suggest that Mikolashek brushed aside evidence that there had been abuse and significant training problems.

"Our government has failed, and the blame is on Washington, not Hollywood," Romero said.

Romero was referring to the account of a platoon leader who said interpreters were often taken along on raids to pick up insurgents. Often there were not enough interrogators to go with the interpreters, and that meant other officers were thrust into the job of interviewing detainees even though they had not been trained in interrogation.

"Officers and [noncommissioned officers] at point of capture engaged in interrogations using techniques they literally remembered from movies," said the unidentified platoon leader, who was with the 4th Infantry Division from Fort Hood, Texas.

The platoon leader did not elaborate on the nature of the techniques used but said that "soldiers need to be trained in basic tactical interrogation techniques. It's going to be done one way or the other. Why not the right way?"

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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