Testimony Implicates Abu Ghraib Questioners

By Richard A. Serrano

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

August 6, 2004

FT. BRAGG, N.C. — U.S. Army intelligence officers often physically and mentally tormented detainees in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, but only once were any held accountable for their misconduct, according to testimony heard Thursday in a military court.

The statements contradicted the government's position that only seven rogue soldiers — all military police — were directly responsible for the abuse. The latest accounts in the unfolding scandal came on the third day of a preliminary hearing into charges against Pfc. Lynndie R. England, 21, who is one of six facing possible court-martial. The seventh has pleaded guilty.

Until now, interrogators have been largely portrayed as acting professionally at the prison near Baghdad that was once used by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as a torture chamber.

But several military interrogators and others described for the first time Thursday a variety of harsh treatments they said were meted out by the intelligence squad itself. The to rment, they said, ranged from forcing nude prisoners to drag their genitals across a dirty prison floor to scaring prisoners with police dogs and breaking tables in front of them. One interrogator allegedly told a prisoner, "I wish I could kill you right now."

Spc. Israel Rivera, an intelligence analyst, testified that his colleagues reveled in the misconduct, much like the prison guards: "It was just something out of sport. It was like, 'Hey, do you want to see something cool?' "

The senior officer in the intelligence unit, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, also for the first time gave her account of her subordinates' behavior. She detailed how two of her soldiers — whom she did not name — had been written up for forcing a detainee to strip to his boxer shorts and march back to his cell.

Wood said she "removed the interrogator and analyst" from their posts and recommended nondisciplinary job counseling for them — unlike the MPs, who are facing decades of prison time if convic ted.

Wood also revealed that senior Army officers who ran the detainee prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had instructed her to have her interrogators encourage guards at Abu Ghraib to help collect information about the prisoners.

Under the senior officers' direction, Wood said, she urged interrogators to get the guards to keep logs of detainees' daily activities to determine who prison leaders were, which ones were communicating with fellow detainees and who was likely to break down in interrogation sessions.

But, she said, she never told interrogators to urge guards to play rough with detainees, despite the assertion from the six MPs now facing possible court-martial that they were acting under the orders of military intelligence officers.

"No," Wood said. "Words can't describe my reaction" to later seeing photographs of the prisoner abuse. "I was shocked. I was very disappointed. I was outraged."

England, now seven months pregnant, has emerged as a key character in the Abu Ghraib scandal. If convicted, she could face a 38-year prison sentence.

She is the young woman seen smiling and flashing a thumbs-up in numerous photos taken with naked inmates. She also has been described as being photographed topless and bottomless and having sex with her boyfriend, Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., another MP charged in the case.

Senior Army leaders are continuing a formal investigation into the role of the intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib. Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where parallel investigations are underway, have voiced skepticism that the abuse was limited to a few low-level soldiers.

Thursday's revelations about misconduct by intelligence officers surfaced in an odd way.

Military prosecutors called witnesses to testify about the abuse by telephone from posts in Texas, Kansas, Iowa and elsewhere.

The witnesses had little to say about England, but they implicated intelligence officers in acts of abuse that, though not as shocking as some of those captured by cameras, nonetheless were designed to physically and mentally harm detainees.

Special Agent Neal Gruhn, a criminal investigator, testified that he learned during his investigation into the scandal that interrogators had made one detainee walk nude around the cellblock and say, "Look at me." He said another male interrogator put his hand on the chest of a male detainee and asked, "Do you like being touched by a guy?"

Gruhn recalled that an interrogator employed by a private contractor working with the military told him how a fellow intelligence officer often slammed his fists on a table in the interview room to scare prisoners. "He broke several tables," Gruhn said.

Capt. Brent Fitch, a military lawyer assigned to the intelligence unit, identified three interrogators — Rivera, Spc. Armin J. Cruz and Spc. Roman Krol — as watching or participating in some of the abuse. Fitch said the photos bothered him, especially because he earlier ha d watched interrogations through a two-way mirror and believed questioning was being done humanely.

"If an interrogator wanted to deviate" in his approach to an inmate, Fitch said, "he would have had to request an exception to policy and send it up the chain of command." He said he rarely, if ever, saw such requests.

Rivera described how an intelligence officer shouted "homosexual slurs" at three rape suspects, and he said the detainees were stripped and forced to drag themselves on their stomachs across the floor. He said intelligence officers, including Cruz, ordered the prisoners to "roll left and roll right" and poured water from a paper cup on them.

"They were put together in a big bundle of bodies and handcuffed together," Rivera said. "They were made to look as if they were having sex. Cruz stepped on their buttocks to simulate homosexual activities. Krol threw a football at them."

Rivera said nothing was really done about it, "except that we all were told it better not happen again."

Wood, the captain over the intelligence unit, insisted that her subordinates were well-behaved and largely obeyed signs she had posted around the prison warning them of policies protecting detainees against abuse.

But she said that Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who ran the Guantanamo Bay prison, changed the tone of operations when he and his staff visited Abu Ghraib and encouraged her to bring prison guards into the effort of collecting detainee information.

"It was not really a feasible request for the MPs," she said. "They had their hands full already just trying to keep up at the prison."