Abu Ghraib

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Abu Ghraib (also spelled Abu Gharib and Abu Ghurayb), the largest of ten Enemy Prisoner of War Camps in Iraq, is the location of the reputed "torture chamber of horrors" where Saddam Hussein had his political opponents tortured and hung. "Abu Ghraib was known as a colossal dungeon where the silent screams of its captives became the symbol of state terror. Abu Ghraib was the Iraqi gulag." [1]

Abu Ghraib, now commonly referred to as "Baghdad Central Detention Center" or the "Baghdad Central Correctional Facility," is located approximately 20 miles west of Baghdad. "The facility occupies 280 acres with over 4 kilometers of security perimeter and 24 guard towers. The prison is composed of five distinct compounds each surrounded by guard towers and high walls. Built by British contractors in the 1960s, Abu Ghraib is a virtual city within a city. ... Cells measured approximately four meters by four meters and held an average of 40 persons." [2]

"The presidential palace at Abu Ghraib includes a command bunker, sleeping quarters and a large underground military and intelligence center. The Abu Ghraib complex was one of eight designated presidential palaces, and Iraq's decision to declare it off-limits to UN arms inspectors spurred the 1998 US-Iraqi showdown." [3]

On July 13, 2003, the Arab Times announced that "Iraqs Most Feared Prison Open Again for Business Under US Control" ... "And Iraqis still fear it."

Reporting in December 2003 for the St. Petersburg Times, Susan Taylor Martin wrote that "At Abu Ghraib, the most notorious prison, 150 inmates were crammed into cells designed for 24. The torture chamber was next to the hanging chamber, whose clanging iron trap doors were a vivid reminder of the fate awaiting those who refused to pledge loyalty to the regime." [4]

Joe Ryan, an interrogator working for CACI International at the prison, kept an online diary of his work. The diary was removed in late April 2004, however the last few entries were rescued from the Google cache: see Joe Ryan Abu Ghraib diary April 2004.

The Truth About Abu Ghraib

The Situation: Abuse, Torture, and Brutality

  • Matthew Yglesias, "JAG Report," TAPPED, July 28, 2005: "Spencer Ackerman has an article ("Silent Treatment," New Republic, July 27, 2005; requires subsciption) out on recently released documents that give us the military's lawyer's view of U.S. interrogation policy." Lengthy excerpt included with Yglesias' article.
  • The May 3, 2004, New York Times Op-Ed "The Nightmare at Abu Ghraib" stated the obvious: "The American military made a strange and ill-starred decision when it chose to incarcerate Iraqis in Abu Ghraib, the prison that had become a byword for torture under Saddam Hussein and a symbol of everything the invasion of Iraq was supposed to end. As United States officials have known for months, some of the American soldiers brought their own version of sadism to the site. Now that the rest of the world knows as well, the Bush administration will have to do more than denounce the scandal as the work of a few bad apples."
  • Hisham Melham, a Lebanese journalist, speaking May 3, 2004, on PBS Online NewsHour said that "The irony [is] that these abuses were taking place in Abu Ghraib, the most notorious prison during Saddam's regime, a facility that should have been razed to the ground and in its place built a shrine or memorial to its many victims. These abuses were taking place in that most notorious jail."
"Terrorists like Osama bin Laden have always intended to use their violence to prod the United States and its allies into demonstrating that their worst anti-American propaganda was true. Abu Ghraib was an enormous victory for them, and it is unlikely that any response by the Bush administration will wipe its stain from the minds of Arabs. The invasion of Iraq, which has already begun to seem like a bad dream in so many ways, cannot get much more nightmarish than this." [5]

Use of Dogs Authorized

  • The Financial Times' Joshua Chaffin and Demetri Sevastopulo reported June 22/23, 2004, that the "US approved use of dogs in interrogations": "The White House on [June 22nd] released documents showing the US had for a period approved the use of dogs in the interrogation of prisoners. But it said the practice was later withdrawn and it denied ever sanctioning torture."
According to Col. Thomas M. Pappas, "the idea came from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, who at the time commanded the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was implemented under a policy approved by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top U.S. military official in Iraq."
However, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, "spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq," said that "Miller never had a conversation with Colonel Pappas regarding the use of military dogs for interrogation purposes in Iraq. Further, military dogs were never used in interrogations at Guantanamo."
"... accounts by American dog handlers who say the use of military working dogs in interrogations at Abu Ghraib was approved by Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade." However, an October 9, 2003, 'memorandum for the record' "listed as permissible a number of interrogation procedures that Army officials have said were allowed only with approval from General Sanchez .... [including] the use of dogs in interrogations and the confining of prisoners to isolation cells was permitted in some cases without a prior approval from General Sanchez."


In the May 17, 2004, Slate, Fred Kaplan wrote "Locked in Abu Ghraib. The prison scandal keeps getting worse for the Bush administration."

"The White House is about to get hit by the biggest tsunami since the Iran-Contra affair, maybe since Watergate. President George W. Bush is trapped inside the compound, immobilized by his own stay-the-course campaign strategy. Can he escape the massive tidal waves? Maybe. But at this point, it's not clear how.
"If today's investigative shockers--Seymour Hersh's latest article in The New Yorker and a three-part piece in Newsweek--are true, it's hard to avoid concluding that responsibility for the Abu Ghraib atrocities goes straight to the top, both in the Pentagon and the White House, and that varying degrees of blame can be ascribed to officials up and down the chain of command."

Emerging Details

Full Disclosure

The Congressional group stated that "We've given the President and the Republican Majority every opportunity to participate in what any decent society demands-accountability for inhuman and degrading acts committed in our name. Yesterday's release was selective and only included documents favorable to the White House, it does not include the full set of materials needed to fully assess responsibility for the scandal. For example, we still don't have:
  • reports from the Red Cross and other human rights groups;
  • reports from investigations conducted by the military and Administration;
  • information on the command relationships at prisons and the training of personnel;
  • information about keeping detainees off prison rosters as Donald Rumsfeld admitted he did;
  • documents about contractors and their role in detaining and interrogating prisoners;
  • documented complaints reportedly filed by contractors and military personnel
The statement concluded: "The prison scandal is a stain on our nation and an impediment to the prosecution of the war against terror. If this Congress can't find the will to investigate an abuse of this magnitude, it calls into question our entire constitutional system of checks and balances."

Pressure from the Top Down

"In a sworn statement to Army investigators obtained by USA Today, Army Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, the top military intelligence officer at Abu Ghraib when abuses occurred, said he was under intense pressure from the White House, Pentagon and CIA last fall to get better information from detainees.
"He also said he had worked out a procedure with CIA interrogators to hide five or six inmates from Red Cross inspectors in October [2003], the newspaper reported in Friday editions."

Early Warning Failures

Early warnings were sounded in November 2003, by both the Red Cross, which "alerted American military commanders in Iraq to abuses at Abu Ghraib," and "a small unit of interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison began reporting allegations of prisoner abuse ... in [previously unreported] internal documents sent to senior officers, according to interviews with military personnel who worked in the prison."

Restricted Access

"Just days before the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal was disclosed to criminal investigators in mid-January, Army lawyers and intelligence officers executed a plan to restrict Red Cross access to the facility west of Baghdad. The new rules were developed by the office of Army Col. Marc Warren, the top legal adviser to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who heads coalition forces in Iraq, and officers of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which controlled the prison.
"According to a memo obtained by U.S.News , military police and intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib were told on January 2 about the new plans. Two days later, a Sunday, inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited Abu Ghraib. The Red Cross team was told that its access to cellblocks 1A and 1B, where most of the abuses had occurred, along with nearby interrogation booths located outside the facility, would be restricted.
"After the Red Cross objected, the Army gave the inspectors access to 1A and 1B but kept them from interviewing nine 'security internees' being interrogated at the time, the memo said. The Army also maintained a requirement that the Red Cross schedule future visits and be escorted by military personnel.
"The restrictions were put in place despite the Army's avowed commitment to 'free and unfettered access' to Abu Ghraib and other detention facilities in Iraq, in compliance with the Geneva Conventions. The new policy was drafted after the Red Cross, in visits to Abu Ghraib last October and November, uncovered abusive treatment."


Ask the Right Questions

  • Bradley Graham wrote in the May 27, 2004, Washington Post that, although "Some Seek Broad, External Inquiry on Prisoner Abuse," "a close look at what is being investigated, and who is doing the investigating, reveals gaps in the web of probes as well as limitations on the scope, with none of the inquiries designed to yield a complete picture of what went wrong or address suspicions of a possible top-secret intelligence-gathering operation that may have helped set the stage for the misconduct" and "No investigating authority has been given the specific task of assessing the roles of top authorities either in the U.S. Central Command or at the Pentagon."

Abuse More Widespread

"Several US guards allege they witnessed military-intelligence operatives encouraging the abuse of Iraqi prison inmates at four prisons other than Abu Ghraib ... Court transcripts and Army investigator interviews provide the broadest view of evidence that abuses, from forcing inmates to stand in hoods in 49oC heat to punching them, occurred at a Marine detention camp and three Army prison sites in Iraq besides Abu Ghraib.
"Testimony about tactics used at a Marine prisoner-of-war camp (Camp Whitehorse) near Nasiriyah also raises the question whether coercive techniques were standard procedure for military intelligence units in different service branches and throughout Iraq. ... guards were told to keep enemy prisoners of war ... standing for 50 minutes each hour for up to 10 hours. They would then be interrogated by 'human exploitation teams,' or HETs, comprising intelligence specialists. ... 'The 50/10 technique was used to break down the EPWs and make it easier for the HET member to get information from them,' [according to a guard,] Marine Corporal Otis Antoine."
"Detainees at an Army prison camp near Samarra, north of Baghdad, were said to have been choked and beaten and to have had their hair pulled. Prisoners are also alleged to have been placed in painful positions for hours at Camp Cropper, a prison at Baghdad International Airport for prominent former Iraqi officials. ... Military officials say they are investigating all of those incidents."
"Troops from Poland and other countries in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq also are accused of abusing prisoners, witnesses told Army investigators.
"Witness statements obtained by The Associated Press include other new details about the involvement of U.S. military intelligence soldiers in Iraq, including a civilian interpreter's claim that an Army interrogator forced a prisoner to walk naked through Abu Ghraib prison ... [including] new allegations that coalition forces had beaten prisoners before turning them over to the Americans."
A May 5, 2004, document prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command "at the request of Army officials ... lists the status of investigations into three dozen cases, including the continuing investigation into the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib." The "summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known."

Teaching Tactics

At "the urging of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then head of detention operations" at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, teams of "interrogation experts [from Cuba] ... were sent to Iraq [for 90-day tours] last fall [to recommend improvements in the intelligence gathering and detention operations there] and played a major role in training American military intelligence teams at Abu Ghraib prison there, senior military officials said Friday."
"The teams from Guantánamo Bay, which had operated there under directives allowing broad latitude in questioning 'enemy combatants,' played a central role at Abu Ghraib through December, the officials said, a time when the worst abuses of prisoners were taking place. Prisoners captured in Iraq, unlike those sent from Afghanistan to Guantánamo, were to be protected by the Geneva Conventions."
"The involvement of the Guantánamo teams has not previously been disclosed, and military officials said it would be addressed in a major report on suspected abuses by military intelligence specialists that is being completed by Maj. Gen. George Fay ... [The report] will be the second major chapter in the Army's examination of the prisoner abuses in Iraq. Military officials said he would determine whether tactics used by military interrogators at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan were wrongly applied in Iraq, including at Abu Ghraib."

Circling the Pentagon Wagons

"Less than two weeks after Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez abruptly removed Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski from her command of Abu Ghraib prison," he replaced her as prison commander with "a younger officer of subordinate rank, Col. Thomas M. Pappas."
In late November 2003, "Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, Sanchez's chief deputy, convened a meeting at which certain legal issues emerging at the prison were discussed. ... Karpinski was still feeling the sting to her pride caused by the abrupt change of command ordered by Sanchez two weeks earlier."
"Although Karpinski was criticized in the publicly known summary of the Army's Taguba Report, her status within the Army was unaffected until this week. ... Now, six months after that November meeting, it seems that nothing has changed in the way the Army treats Janis Karpinski. She complained on Monday that she had just received a terse email notifying her that she has now been officially suspended from her command. ... No explanation was offered to her and no one called to tell her of her suspension."
"It is now clear that the Pentagon's wagons are circling and that Karpinski is on the outside. However, back in November of 2003 it was not so clear to Karpinski that she was being set up to take a fall."
  • Also see Reshuffling the Chain of Command below.

Rumsfeld's "Out of the Loop"

"On Monday night, President Bush made the dramatic announcement that the United States would demolish Abu Ghraib prison and build a modern maximum-security center in Baghdad to replace it. But on Wednesday, Pentagon officials said the president's words had taken them by surprise, and they scrambled without success to come up with details of the plan.
"'This office was not aware of any plans to raze Abu Ghraib or build another prison,' said a Pentagon spokesman who insisted that he not be identified because he did not want to be seen as contradicting the president."

All for ???

  • Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt reported in the May 27, 2004, New York Times article "Prison Interrogations in Iraq Seen as Yielding Little Data on Rebels" that "The questioning of hundreds of Iraqi prisoners last fall in the newly established interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison yielded very little valuable intelligence, according to civilian and military officials."
  • Jesse Taylor at Pandagon commented on May 27, 2004:
"Some of the defenses of the prisoner abuse I've seen over the past few weeks have centered around two assumptions, one erroneous, one unproven.
"The erroneous one is that the actions were done to guilty people, something that the Red Cross gave the lie to a while ago - there were so many people in the prisons that didn't belong there that it was virtually impossible for some of the torture not to have involved people whom there was no reason to interrogate (if you can call what they did interrogation).
"The second part, that the torture was somehow ameliorated by its results, was hard to debate one way or the other. Beyond the validity of any information received - did they actually get any information? According to [Jehl and Schmitt's report], no. In fact, most of the information didn't even come from prison interrogations."

Fate of Civilian Contractors

Reshuffling the Chain of Command

  • Robert Burns, "General Who Led Abu Ghraib Guard Suspended," AP, May 24, 2004: "Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski ["suspended from command of the 800th Military Police Brigade"] and other officers in her brigade were faulted by Army investigators for paying too little attention to the prison's day-to-day operations and not acting strongly enough to discipline soldiers under her command for violating standard procedures. ... Karpinski's suspension, which has not been announced by the Army, was the latest in a series of actions against officers and enlisted soldiers implicated in the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad."
Karpinski says Sanchez "rejected a recommendation in January that the military make a public Arabic-language radio or television address to the Iraqi people to confront accusations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison" and also said that "Sanchez visited a military intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib at least three times in October [2003], when the first of the worst abuses were taking place. And while General Sanchez has said he did not learn of the abuses until Jan. 14, General Karpinski said his top deputy, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, was present at a meeting in late November at which there was extensive discussion of a Red Cross report that cited specific cases of abuse."
  • Although President Bush made the announcement that the Abu Ghraib prison would be destroyed in his May 24, 2004, speech on Iraqi sovereignty: June 30, 2004, AP reporter Lara Jakes Jordan had already reported that a "proposal to destroy" the Abu Ghraib prison was "moving forward" in the House of Representatives on May 20th, "as lawmakers voted to include it in a defense spending bill." [6]
Sanchez will be replaced by Gen. George W. Casey, Jr., "the Army's second-ranking general," according to senior Pentagon officials on May 25, 2004. [8]
"Capt. Robert Shuck ... assigned to defend Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick III..., said he was told that Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and other senior military officers were aware of what was taking place on Tier 1A of Abu Ghraib. ... During an April 2 hearing that was open to the public, Shuck said the company commander, Capt. Donald J. Reese, was prepared to testify in exchange for immunity. The military prosecutor questioned Shuck about what Reese would say under oath." ... However, "clear evidence has not emerged that high-level officers condoned or promoted the abusive practices."

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