New Interrogation Rules Set for Detainees in Iraq

By ERIC SCHMITT

New York Times

March 10, 2005

WASHINGTON, March 9 - After clashing with Afghan rebels at the village of Miam Do one year ago, American soldiers detained the village's entire population for four days, and an officer beat and choked several residents while screening them and trying to identify local militants, according to a new Pentagon report that was given to Congress late Monday night.

Although the officer, an Army lieutenant colonel attached to the Defense Intelligence Agency, was disciplined and suspended from further involvement with detainees, he faced no further action beyond a reprimand.

The episode, described only briefly in a summary of the report reviewed by The New York Times, was one example of how little control was exerted over some conduct of interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the subject of an exhaustive review just completed by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church, the naval inspector general.

The report finds that early warning signs of serious abuses did not receive enough high-level attention as the abuses unfolded, and that unit commanders did not get clear instructions that might have halted the abuses.

The findings of this review, the latest in a series of military inquiries conducted in the past year, come as the top American military commander in Iraq has ordered the first major changes to interrogation procedures there in nearly a year, narrowing the set of authorized techniques and adding new safeguards to prevent abuse of Iraqi prisoners, officials said.

The new procedures approved by the officer, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., on Jan. 27, have not been publicly disclosed, but are described in the Church report, a wide-ranging investigation into interrogation techniques used at military detention centers in Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"This policy approves a more limited set of techniques for use in Iraq, and also provides additional safeguards and prohibitions, rectifies ambiguities and, significantly, requires commanders to conduct training on and verify implementation of the policy, and report compliance to the commander," according to a summary of the inquiry's classified report.

Three senior defense officials said Wednesday that the new procedures clarified the prohibition against the use of muzzled dogs in interrogations, gave specific guidance to field units as to how long they could hold prisoners before releasing them or sending them to higher headquarters for detention, and made clear command responsibilities for detainee operations. They did not describe the particulars of the changes, which are likely to be a main focus of a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing set for Thursday to review the Church report's findings. It will be the first Congressional hearing into the prisoner abuse scandal since last September, when senior Army investigators presented their findings.

In a brief interview on Tuesday night on Capitol Hill after briefing senators on operations in Iraq, General Casey, who took over the Iraq command last summer, said the changes were intended to "tighten up" the interrogation procedures American officials have been using since May 13, 2004. A senior military official also said the revised procedures reflected the experience military officials had gained since then.

General Casey declined to discuss any specific changes, but the report summary said the main intent was to resolve ambiguities "which, although they would not permit abuse, could obscure commanders' oversight of techniques being employed."

Admiral Church's report faults senior American officials for failing to establish clear interrogation policies for Iraq and Afghanistan, leaving commanders there to develop some practices that were unauthorized, according to the report summary. But the inquiry found that Pentagon officials and senior commanders were not directly responsible for the detainee abuses, and that there was no policy that approved mistreatment of detainees at prisons in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

These conclusions track with those in a draft summary of the inquiry's findings that The New York Times described in an article last December.

But the final report contains new information about the scope of the abuses and specific cases of mistreatment.

These findings are in an unclassified 21-page executive summary of the classified report, which runs 368 pages, according to a Senate Republican aide. A copy of the summary was reviewed by The Times.

The report concludes that American officials failed to react to early indications of prisoner abuse and to deal with them.

"It is clear that such warning signs were present, particularly at Abu Ghraib, in the form of communiqués to local commanders, that should have prompted those commanders to put in place more specific procedures and direct guidance to prevent further abuse," the summary said.

"Instead, these warning signs were not given sufficient attention at the unit level, nor were they relayed to the responsible C.J.T.F. commander in a timely way," the summary said, referring to the commanders in Iraq.

Two senior defense officials said on Wednesday that the most striking warning signs were reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross to American military officials in Iraq of serious mistreatment of the prisoners, especially a briefing to officials at Abu Ghraib prison in October 2003. One of the senior officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Church report has not yet been publicly released, said that had military officials heeded the Red Cross's warnings, which were made public months later, "some of the abuses might not have happened."

The report's disclosure of the abuse at the village in Afghanistan was described in The Boston Globe on Wednesday. According to the inquiry, American ground forces clashed with Afghan rebels at Miam Do on March 18, 2004. After the battle, the American soldiers detained the villagers to interview them and screen for militants. The number of detained is not known.

During this process, the report said, the Army lieutenant colonel, who had accompanied the American combat troops, "punched, kicked, grabbed and choked numerous villagers." The report did not identify the officer, who was nearing retirement and who, until the Miam Do incident, had displayed "exceptional service," including two deployments to Afghanistan, according to Pentagon officials and documents.

At the time of the fighting around Miam Do, in Uruzgan Province in central Afghanistan, a military spokesman said two American soldiers, an Afghan army sergeant and at least eight militants had been killed, as well as a civilian woman. A compound cordoned off by the American and Afghan troops was bombarded by allied aircraft, but when the troops moved in, they were fired upon again from within the compound. Taliban propaganda and a ton of weapons were seized, according to a report by The Associated Press.

The lawless province was viewed as a refuge of dispersed fighters and leaders of the Taliban movement, which was ousted from control in the 2001 war in Afghanistan.

The report also delved into the role that medical personnel might have played in failing to report abuses they witnessed or treated. Investigators reviewed the cases of 68 detainees who died while in American custody, including 63 in Iraq and five in Afghanistan, the summary said. Six of those deaths were related to detainee abuse, investigators determined.

In three cases, two in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, the report concluded that "it appeared that medical personnel may have attempted to misrepresent the circumstances of the death, possibly to disguise detainee abuse." These cases were forwarded to the Army surgeon general for review, the report summary said.

A spokeswoman for the surgeon general said Wednesday that the review was continuing.

Admiral Church's report is the sixth major inquiry into the abuse and detention operations. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld directed the inquiry 10 months ago to examine the interrogation techniques in Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq, and to identify any gaps among the various investigations.

The report was based on more than 800 interviews with personnel who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba as well as thousands of pages of documents and a review of all the other investigations and reviews on detainee abuse and detention operations. Its statistical conclusions derived mainly from 71 completed cases of substantiated detainee abuse as of Sept. 30, 2004, including 20 that involved mistreatment during interrogations.

The Church report contrasted the rigorous review of interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay with a much more haphazard process in Afghanistan and Iraq, and it noted the interrogation techniques migrated from one area to another in the absence of adequate oversight from high-level Pentagon officials. "We consider it a missed opportunity that no specific guidance on interrogation techniques was provided to the commanders responsible for Afghanistan and Iraq," the report summary said.

The inquiry found, for instance, that by January 2003, military interrogators in Afghanistan were using techniques similar to those that Mr. Rumsfeld had approved for use only at Guantánamo Bay. Those techniques included stress positions and sleep and light deprivation.

As a result of the military inquiries and individual criminal investigations into detainee abuse, the Army said last week that it had taken 120 actions against 109 soldiers so far. That includes 32 courts-martial, and 88 other forms of punishment, including reprimands and dismissal from the service.