Abu Ghraib Roundup

A whole bevy of stories on the widening scandal appears in today’s papers. Most of the stories focus on the command climate surrounding the abuses. Not only is it becoming increasingly clear that the abuses were much more widespread than it initially appeared, but the nexus between Guantanimo, Iraq, and even Afghanistan is crystalizing. The interaction between military intelligence and military police is coming under increased scrutiny and the wisdom of allowing soldiers to be directly involved in the handling of prisoners of the opposite sex should soon become a major question. There is also an allegation that a large chunk of the Taguba Report was omitted from the version sent to Congress. Finally, there’s a rumor that former Senator Dan Coats, now Ambassador to Germany, has been approached as a possible successor to SECDEF Don Rumsfeld should the latter resign over the scandal.

WSJ — Pentagon Reviews Detainee Deaths [$]

Bush administration claims that abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison appear to be isolated acts by low-level soldiers sprang more leaks with the Pentagon’s acknowledgment that it is reviewing the deaths of 33 detainees captured in Iraq and Afghanistan, including nine homicides.

Of the nine, three in Afghanistan and six in Iraq, most appear to have come as a result of beatings, according to death certificates released by the Pentagon. A senior Pentagon military official said most of the beatings appear to have been delivered during interrogations. One death, involving a senior Iraqi general, was the apparent result of strangulation, the reports said.

Though a senior Pentagon military official cautioned that investigators haven’t ruled out natural causes or justifiable force as having contributed to the deaths, the expanded investigation suggests President Bush may have spoken too quickly when he said the prison-abuse scandal “was the wrongdoing of a few.” The president’s approval rating has fallen amid the recent chaos and reports of prisoner abuse, and polls show deep public concern about the course of U.S. involvement in Iraq.


The Pentagon’s wider probe of prison abuses extends throughout various sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of the 33 cases appear to be deaths related to heart problems, though one unnamed detainee died of multiple gunshot wounds on May 18, the records say. Of the homicides, six note “blunt force injuries.” The death certificate for former Iraqi Army Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush says he died of “asphyxia, due to smothering and chest compression.”

LA Times — Army Widens Abuse Probe

As the investigation of prisoner abuses in Iraq shifts to the role of military intelligence, two intelligence soldiers identified in the notorious pictures from the Abu Ghraib detention facility have been ordered to remain in Baghdad as part of the expanding probe, according to witness statements and commanders of the soldiers’ reserve units.

U.S. Army Spcs. Armin J. Cruz and Israel Rivera, both members of a reserve unit in Texas, are so far the only military intelligence soldiers known to be at the scene of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in a high-security cellblock at Abu Ghraib.

Neither Cruz nor Rivera has been charged. But their role in the burgeoning scandal may be an important link for investigators seeking to determine whether the abuses were the work of a rogue unit of military police, or were directed by intelligence officers pushing guards to “soften up” detainees for interrogation.

More broadly, the photographs from Abu Ghraib have focused attention on U.S. interrogation practices and raised questions about systemic problems in military prisons from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Senior military officials and defense lawyers said additional charges may be pending, raising the prospect that the criminal probe is poised to expand beyond the guilty plea of one MP and the planned courts-martial of six others accused of taking part in the abuse.


Edward J. Rivas, a chief warrant officer at the prison, testified that Cruz “was removed [from interrogation duty] because of a situation when a detainee was stripped naked.” Rivas was referring to an incident in which Cruz and another Army specialist, Luciana Spencer, forced a prisoner to walk naked past other inmates to humiliate him and punish him for not cooperating.

Another interrogator, Sgt. Theresa A. Adams, told Army investigators that the prisoner was completely stripped and then walked to the interrogation booth “as part of the approach” for getting him to talk.

In an interview last week, Provance said that although Cruz and Rivera were both analysts, there was such a shortage of interrogators at Abu Ghraib that it was common for soldiers with no training to be sent into the booth to question prisoners. ” ‘Interrogator’ is kind of a loose term out at Abu Ghraib,” Provance said.

Military officials who worked at the prison said analysts often accompanied interrogators into the booth but were not supposed to take part in questioning prisoners.

NYT — Pentagon Approved Intense Interrogation Techniques for Sept. 11 Suspect at Guantánamo [RSS]

Interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp received Pentagon approval to use special, harsher interrogation procedures on a Saudi Arabian detainee who was believed to be the planned 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 terror plot, government officials said Thursday.

The decision followed a debate among Pentagon and military legal authorities that centered on how to question Mohamed al-Kahtani, who tried unsuccessfully to enter the United States in August 2001.

After he was turned away by a Customs inspector, Mr. Kahtani returned to the Middle East. He was later captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantánamo, where he was one of the highest ranking Al Qaeda figures at the base.

Mr. Kahtani was believed to have information about the Sept. 11 plot, about possible future attacks and about funding for the Al Qaeda terrorist network, and the internal legal debate showed how the issue of coercive treatment had swirled through the Pentagon before American forces entered Iraq.

At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, the officials said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved a range of more aggressive interrogation techniques in response to a desire in late 2002 to pry more information from a specific detainee at Guantánamo. But they did not disclose the detainee’s identity.

A senior Pentagon civilian lawyer said there was “some urgency” to increasing the pressure on this detainee because he likely “had information that the people at Guantánamo believed was important, not just about perhaps 9/11, but about future events.”

Mr. Kahtani was specifically identified in separate interviews with several United States government officials as the detainee at the center of the debate.

A range of techniques harsher than those described in standard military doctrine were sought, based on the administration’s legal determination that the Guantánamo detainees were not conventional prisoners of war, covered by the Geneva Conventions, but terrorists and illegal enemy combatants.

Pentagon officials have declined to list the approved techniques, saying that they remain classified.

NYT — Afghan Deaths Linked To Unit At Iraq Prison [RSS]

A military intelligence unit that oversaw interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was also in charge of questioning at a detention center in Afghanistan where two prisoners died in December 2002 in incidents that are being investigated as homicides.

For both of the Afghan prisoners, who died in a center known as the Bagram Collection Point, the cause of death listed on certificates signed by American pathologists included blunt force injuries to their legs. Interrogations at the center were supervised by Company A, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, which moved on early in 2003 to Iraq, where some of its members were assigned to the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib. Its service in Afghanistan was known, but its work at Bagram at the time of the deaths has now emerged in interviews with former prisoners, military officials and from documents.

Two men arrested with one of the prisoners who died in the Bagram Detention Center that month said in southeastern Afghanistan on Sunday that they were tortured and sexually humiliated by their American jailers; they said they were held in isolation cells, black hoods were placed over their heads, and their hands at times were chained to the ceiling. “The 10 days that we had was a very bad time,” said Zakim Shah, a 20-year-old farmer and a father of two who said he felt he would not survive at times. “We are very lucky.”

The account provided by the two men was consistent with those of other former Afghan prisoners, including those interviewed by The New York Times and cited in reports by human rights officials.

In interviews, the two men and other former prisoners who were held at the center in Afghanistan at that time have described an environment similar in some ways to that of Abu Ghraib, whose outlines have been depicted in photographs and testimony. At both places, prisoners were hooded, stripped naked and mocked sexually by female captors, according to a variety of accounts.

In Iraq, at least three members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion who had been assigned to the joint interrogation center at Abu Ghraib have been quietly disciplined for conduct involving the abuse of a female Iraqi prisoner there, an Army spokesman said.

At least one officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, served in supervisory positions at the interrogation units both at the Bagram Collection Point from July 2002 to December 2003 and then again at the joint center at Abu Ghraib, according to Army officials. That center was established in the fall of 2003. In Congressional testimony last week, a senior Army lawyer, Col. Marc Warren, praised Captain Wood as an officer who took initiative in Iraq at a time when American commanders had yet to spell out rules for interrogation. But he also singled out Captain Wood and her unit as having brought to Iraq interrogation procedures developed during their service in Afghanistan. No one is known to have accused Captain Wood of any wrongdoing in connection with the abuses at Abu Ghraib or the deaths of prisoners there or in Afghanistan.

The psychological conditions that may have contributed to the situation is the subject of a couple of stories. AP (Washington Times) has revisits a story that appeared over the weekend: — Abuse Pictures Taken Amid Losses

Many of the worst abuses that have come to light at the Abu Ghraib prison happened on a single November day amid insurgent violence in Iraq, many U.S. soldiers deaths and a breakdown of the guards’ command structure.

Nov. 8 was the day U.S. guards took most of the infamous photographs: soldiers mugging in front of a pile of naked Iraqis, prisoners forced to perform or simulate sex acts and a hooded prisoner in a scarecrowlike pose with wires attached to him.

It was not clear Friday whether most or all of the new pictures and video published by The Washington Post depicted events Nov. 8. At least one photo, showing Spc. Charles Graner Jr. with his arm cocked as if to punch a prisoner, is described in military court documents as having been taken that day.

When Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits tearfully pleaded guilty Wednesday to abusing prisoners, he described fellow soldiers committing an escalating series of abuses on eight prisoners that included stamping on their toes and fingers and punching one man hard enough to knock him out.

WaPo — Soldiers Vented Frustration, Doctor Says

Physical abuses by U.S. military police of Iraqi prison detainees stemmed from a mixture of soldiers’ anger and frustration over poor working conditions, their racism and the absence of any meaningful supervision, according to the report of an Air Force psychiatrist who studied the episode for the Army.

The unclassified report, by Col. Henry Nelson, provides the military’s principal, internal explanation for why the soldiers participated in the abusive actions. His independent study was based on a review of thousands of pages of interview transcripts and other documents the Pentagon has not released, and it is appended to a report of the Army investigation headed by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba.

At the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, “the worst human qualities and behaviors came to the fore” in an atmosphere of “danger, promiscuity and negativity” within a closed environment, wrote Nelson, a member of the Army’s investigating team. He noted training lapses, as others have, but also said that soldiers’ unfamiliarity with Islamic culture, their pervasive sense of danger and the indefinite nature of their tenure were factors that wore them down.

“The sadistic and psychopathic behavior was appalling and shocking,” Nelson wrote in the report, which was provided to The Washington Post by a government official. “Abuse with sexual themes occurred and was witnessed, condoned [and] photographed, but never reported.”

Much of the language in Nelson’s study supports the Army’s contention that the abuses were a product of a distorted environment at Abu Ghraib last year, amounting to a wartime version of the malicious conduct by marooned children in the novel “Lord of the Flies.” But the report is at odds with recent congressional testimony by top Army and military intelligence officials that the prison abuse involved only low-ranking soldiers and was not known by more senior officers.


In highlighting psychological and cultural factors underlying the abuses, Nelson noted that soldiers sent to Iraq were immersed in Islamic culture for the first time and said “there is an association of Muslims with terrorism” that contributed to misperceptions, fear and “a devaluation of a people.” He reported that one military police platoon leader was openly hostile to Iraqis, and that a police dog handler was “disrespectful and racist” — attributing to his dog a dislike of Iraqi “culture, smell, sound, skin tone [and] hair color.”

USA Today — ‘Time’: Report To Congress Short Pages

The Pentagon sought Sunday to explain why some 2,000 pages were missing from a congressional copy of a classified report detailing the alleged acts of abuse by soldiers against Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita issued a statement saying “if there is some shortfall in what was provided, it was an oversight.” He was responding to a Time magazine report Sunday that about 2,000 of the report’s 6,000 pages submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee were missing. The report by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba consists of a declassified summary and about 6,000 pages of classified annexes, including statements from witnesses, prison guards and military intelligence officials.

Reuters/Boston Globe — US Denies Offering Rumsfeld’s Job To Berlin Envoy

The US Embassy in Berlin denied a German magazine report yesterday that Ambassador Dan Coats was offered the job of secretary of defense if Donald H. Rumsfeld resigns over his handling of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

Focus magazine reported that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had made the offer to Coats during a recent trip to Berlin. Coats had been a leading candidate for the job in 2000 before Rumsfeld was picked. Coats is a former Republican senator from Indiana.

A US Embassy spokesman in Berlin denied the report. “As far as we know, he’s planning to be here in Berlin until after the [November] election,” the spokesman said.

According to Focus, Rice asked Coats, 61, if he were prepared in principle to take the job leading the Pentagon and Coats replied that he was available.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Paul says:

    Not only is it becoming increasingly clear that the abuses were much more widespread than it initially appeared, but the nexus between Guantanimo, Iraq, and even Afghanistan is crystalizing.

    WOW James,

    You don’t think that is overstepping the evidence a bit?

    In Gitmo a single detainee was singled out for harsher treatment in order to get time critical information from him. Approval was sought from the command structure and it went all the way to Secretary of Defense’s desk… That is a far cry from the panties on the head antics.

    As far as the abuses being more “widespread” that is still dubious. The media is hoping it is widespread. They will look for any shred of evidence that might make that case. So they “link” different events over the last 2 years and try to paint them as a single picture.

    When you have a few hundred thousand people detained, some will die in confinement. We have no idea what injuries these guys sustained during – you know- the war before we picked them up. To automatically imply, as the papers due (and you seem to back up,) that it was murder is getting several carts a head of the horse.

    Do we need to investigate? Obviously.

    Are people getting way, way, way ahead of the facts? Obviously.

  2. James Joyner says:


    I think you can read the “special permission” cases as evidence for either side. I read them the way you do. At first. But the evidence now seems to indicate that there were numerous “exceptions” granted and that respect for the Geneva protocols was non-existent. It’s also clear that military intelligence folks, apparently at least including junior officers, were violating the law.

    My initial reaction to the scandal was that, of course, it isn’t systemic because it goes against the training that soldiers received when I was in and would have been culturally anethema to us in those days. Apparently, though, there has been an effort to override that culture.

    It’s still unclear what exactly went on and what the extent was, but it’s been a huge disaster for our effort in Iraq. And Rumsfeld and company have, at the very least, been absolutely incompetent in managing the information flow.

  3. Boyd says:

    …Rumsfeld and company have, at the very least, been absolutely incompetent in managing the information flow.

    It’s odd that a sentence containing the word “absolutely” would still strike me as an understatement. At the very least, the Department’s actions (or lack of same) in regard to the Abu Ghraib story certainly undermine any accusations of managing information so only the desired story gets out.

  4. Paul says:

    I need to think about it some more but I really think you are getting ahead of the story.

    For now lemme mention this:

    I think you can read the “special permission” cases as evidence for either side. I read them the way you do. At first. But the evidence now seems to indicate that there were numerous “exceptions” granted and that respect for the Geneva protocols was non-existent.

    When you have a group of terrorists that might have information that saves lives of course you grant special permissions. (note I did not say exceptions)

    You can not say that “respect for the Geneva protocols was non-existent” because Al Qeada is not covered by the Geneva Protocols. IN FACT terrorists are specifically excluded from them.

    Remember that in the days after 9/11 we had constitutional and legal scholars saying that (true) torture was not against the constitution or the Geneva convention. At the time there was some discussion of using these methods.

    Fast forward 2 years and a (legit) strip search is now called torture.

    We’re throwing the baby out with the bath water. Big time.

  5. Discerning says:

    Provance was right after all.