Pentagon Files Reveal More Allegations of Abuse in Iraq

Documents contain descriptions of severe detainee mistreatment beyond Abu Ghraib.

By John Hendren

Los Angeles Times

January 25, 2005

WASHINGTON — Pentagon documents released Monday disclosed that Iraqi prisoners had lodged dozens of abuse complaints against U.S. and Iraqi personnel who guarded them at a little-known palace in Baghdad converted to a U.S. prison. Among the allegations was that guards had sodomized a disabled man and killed his brother, whose dying body was tossed into a cell, atop his sister.

The documents, obtained in a lawsuit against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest for the first time that numerous detainees were abused at Adhamiya Palace, one of Saddam Hussein's villas in eastern Baghdad that was used by his son Uday. Previous cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners have focused mainly on Abu Ghraib prison.

A government contractor who was interviewed by U.S. investigators said that as many as 90 incidents of possible abuse took place at the palace, but only a few were detailed in the hundreds of pages of documents released Monday.

The documents also touch on alleged abuses in other U.S.-run lockups in Iraq. The papers include investigative reports linking some abuses to ultrasecret Pentagon counter-terrorism units.

The latest allegations add to a pattern that human rights activists said suggested systematic abuse of prisoners at U.S. military detention facilities across the globe. ACLU officials, who have obtained and released thousands of documents in recent months, on Monday accused the Pentagon of a "woefully inadequate" response to hundreds of incidents of alleged abuse.

"Some of the investigations have basically whitewashed the torture and abuse," said the group's director, Anthony D. Romero. "The documents that the ACLU has obtained tell a damning story of widespread torture reaching well beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib."

Responding to the latest allegations, U.S. military officials maintained that a few low-level troops had committed the abuses, independent of senior commanders. They noted that more than 300 criminal investigations had examined allegations of prisoner mistreatment and subjected 100 soldiers to court-martial proceedings and administrative punishments.

"The Army and Department of Defense have aggressively investigated all credible allegations of detainee abuse and held individuals accountable," said Lt. Col. Gerard Healy, an Army spokesman.

Few of the alleged abuses at the Adhamiya palace have previously received attention from Pentagon investigators or human rights groups. The palace is a prison overseen by the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, with interrogations conducted at least in part by members of the 5th Special Forces Group of Ft. Campbell, Ky.

The alleged abuse at the palace included forced sodomy, electric shocks, cigarette burns and severe beatings. Some allegations by prisoners were corroborated by U.S. civilian military contractors hired to help interrogate detainees, according to the Pentagon documents.

One prisoner held at the palace during 2004 said an Iraqi security officer had burned him with cigarettes and struck him repeatedly, the documents state. Another said Iraqi interrogators had pinched his nose and poured water in his mouth, raped him with a wooden stick and shocked his testicles.

In one of the more detailed cases, Iraqi security troops arrested several members of a family accused of supplying arms and money to members of the fedayeen, paramilitaries who had been allied with Hussein's regime.

A woman whose name was blacked out from the documents claimed in interviews with U.S. Army investigators that the bloody, bruised body of her brother had been tossed into her cell on top of her sister. Her brother died shortly afterward, according to her account.

Another brother, who is disabled, said guards pulled him around by his penis. The guards forced a water bottle up his rectum, he told investigators.

Military investigators noted in reports released Monday that the man's legs and arms are uneven in length from a bone deficiency.

A woman who recounted a similar incident to the French newspaper Le Monde was identified recently as Houda Azzawi. Her brother who died was identified in the newspaper's article as Ayad.

The family's complaints were supported by a sworn statement of a military contractor from CACI International Inc., who was interviewed at the Abu Ghraib prison, where the disabled brother was later sent.

The contractor, whose name was redacted from the documents given to the ACLU, recalled "a detainee who was handicapped and was beaten up very bad."

A second CACI contractor corroborated the story, saying that he did not witness abuse by Americans or Iraqis working with them, but noted in an interview with Army investigators "one incident of rape with a bottle and a death of a brother" in January at the palace.

"I heard that the Iraqis recently killed him and hung him. I heard this through interpreters but not official channels yet," the contractor said. "One of the individuals who had been abused said he remembers one of the Americans had a flag on his arm."

An Army Criminal Investigation Command document dated Oct. 14, 2004, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegation that one of the detainees was abused by U.S. troops.

"However, it appears he may have been abused by the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps," the document stated. After an ICDC captain turned over the detainee to U.S. troops, he "was received from the ICDC with visible injuries."

The Army report, whose author's name also was blacked out, concluded that the investigation was "terminated" because continuing would be "of little or no value."

Many detainees from Adhamiya who were transferred to Abu Ghraib complained of abuse to civilian interrogators, according to the documents. The interrogators said another detainee complained he was unable to sit after bottles were inserted into his rectum.

"There were many detainees who came in abused. While we were screening the detainees, they would ask us, 'Are they going to beat us here too?' " the first interrogator said in a statement to investigators. "Some would have broken shoulders, others came in on crutches."

The documents detailed dozens of other alleged abuses in other locations. ACLU officials said the documents suggested that Army criminal investigators failed to pursue leads in abuse cases.

The documents released Monday raised questions about some activities of elite Special Forces teams. One investigation was based on Red Cross reports revealing that an Iraqi detainee turned over to a special U.S. commando unit known as Task Force 6-26 in April 2004 at a base in Fallouja had been abused.

The Red Cross said the detainee had been suspended by his thighs and was beaten while hooded and restrained. The same reports indicated that the Iraqi had been shot in the arm and beaten in the shins with a rubber hose.

However, the case was dropped after investigators concluded he was abused while in the custody of Kurds, before he was turned over to the commando unit, a conclusion ACLU officials continue to question.

In another case involving a group known as Task Force 20, a collection of Special Forces soldiers and CIA officers, a 73-year-old woman complained she was arrested, flown to an undisclosed location and questioned for several days. She said one male captor "rode" her and called her names. She added that two of her fingers were broken and that she was sexually abused with a stick. That case was dropped because "the investigation did not develop sufficient evidence" to prove wrongdoing, investigators wrote.

One investigation was begun in response to a May 11, 2004, Los Angeles Times article detailing the abuses suffered by Iraqi women in U.S. custody as described by their Iraqi attorneys. The matter was quickly dropped when investigators were unable to learn the names and locations of any victims.

In another incident last July, according to the Army documents, a photo emerged showing an Army private pointing a gun at the head of a hooded and bound detainee.

During questioning, the soldier in the photo, whose name was redacted, told investigators that his duties as a guard at an unnamed safe house operated by Special Forces and CIA personnel included requiring detainees to "maintain stressful positions" and preventing them from sleeping by playing loud music, dousing them with water or poking, prodding or slapping them, according to the documents.

Although Army criminal investigators concluded there was probable cause to believe the soldier had committed aggravated assault by pointing his pistol at the detainee, there was no record of punishment or further investigation of the treatment of detainees at the safe house.

An investigation into an alleged beating of an Iraqi detainee in February 2004 found "probable cause" that an unnamed lieutenant colonel had made a death threat and fired a pistol next to the detainee's head at a base in Taji.

Four enlisted soldiers from the 2-20th Field Artillery Battalion of the Army's 4th Infantry Division and a civilian interpreter allegedly punched and kicked the detainee "numerous times while they were interrogating him."

According to the Army documents, the soldiers received light administrative punishment and the interpreter does not appear to have been sanctioned at all.

In a Nov. 14, 2003, statement, a U.S. soldier said he "saw what I think were war crimes" while assigned to a Baghdad facility known as Camp Red. In the statement, the soldier reported seeing U.S. troops assault detainees at the camp and the use of prolonged hooding, exposure to heat and cold and excessive restraints.

"In my mind," the soldier said, "my chain of command did nothing to stop these war crimes, and allowed them to happen."

Despite the soldier's testimony, the investigation was closed due to "insufficient evidence."

Times staff writer Esther Schrader contributed to this report.