Early complaints of Abu Ghraib abuse went nowhere, records show

MATT KELLEY, Associated Press Writer

Friday, June 11, 2004

(06-11) 10:53 PDT WASHINGTON (AP) --

At least five soldiers objected last fall to abuses they saw at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. One demanded to be reassigned, saying the behavior he witnessed there "made me sick to my stomach."

Up the chain of command, the noncommissioned officers who heard such complaints did little to stop the mistreatment, according to Army records obtained by The Associated Press.

One of those same NCOs, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, is accused of stomping on prisoners' toes and punching another prisoner so hard in the chest that he remarked, "I think I might have put him in cardiac arrest." Frederick is among six soldiers facing courts-martial. Another soldier pleaded guilty last month.

The military's full-blown investigation into beatings and humiliations at Abu Ghraib began in January, after one soldier wrote an anonymous letter to superior officers about troubling photographs. That soldier, Spc. Joe Darby, came forward later to talk to Army investigators and eventually became known as the whistle-blower who uncovered the scandal.

Internal Army documents show that others, too, condemned the abuse they saw at the prison, although their complaints failed to prevent further mistreatment.

A diminutive platoon leader, Sgt. 1st Class Shannon Snider, once barked so loudly at soldiers stomping on prisoners' toes that one witness later told investigators, "I never thought that that voice could come out of somebody so little." Then Snider left the room and the abuse continued, the records say.

The fact that earlier complaints apparently went nowhere adds to the uncertainty over a key question in the Abu Grhaib scandal: Did superior military police or intelligence officers encourage or condone the abuses?

A report from Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba says yes. Taguba wrote that commanders of both the military police and intelligence troops at the prison knew or should have known about the abuse. His report also says military intelligence officers unsuccessfully pressured one military dog handler to sic his animal on prisoners.

Some of the six enlisted soldiers awaiting trial will try to use that command inaction as part of their defense. Since other soldiers got little response to repeated objections to abusive practices, the defense lawyers will argue, those involved in the mistreatment figured it was approved by commanders.

"It's telling that another person ... did complain to their superior officer and was told, 'There's nothing wrong. You have to go forward'," said Mary Rose Zapor, a lawyer for Pfc. Lynndie England, one of the accused soldiers. "Had my client known she could complain, it wouldn't have made any difference."

One of the soldiers who complained most vigorously was Spc. Matthew C. Wisdom, a fellow military police soldier assigned to the Abu Ghraib cellblock where most of the worst abuses happened. No one answered the telephone at Wisdom's home in Richmond, Va., this week.

Wisdom told investigators he witnessed some of the abuses of Nov. 8, the night prisoners were forced to masturbate and were stacked, naked, into a human pyramid.

Wisdom complained to at least three sergeants in his chain of command, who agreed to remove him from the cellblock.

"It made me sick to my stomach, sir, disgusted," Wisdom told a judge last month during a hearing to take the guilty plea of Spec. Jeremy Sivits.

One of Wisdom's commanders, Sgt. Robert F. Jones, took the complaint to a higher-ranking noncommissioned officer -- Frederick.

"Frederick assured me that everything would be taken care of," Jones told Army investigators.

But Frederick was accused by one soldier of stomping on the toes of prisoners and punching another prisoner in the chest for no discernible reason that November night. Frederick is facing military charges in connection with the abuse.

Another soldier who complained was Sgt. Stephen C. Hubbard, who happened to see some of the abuse pictures on another soldier's computer. Hubbard complained to Staff Sgt. Robert J. Elliott, who demanded proof, according to statements to Army investigators.

"I threatened to go to (the) commander with info," Hubbard told investigators, saying he was upset that former Pennsylvania prison guard Spc. Charles Graner Jr. had been returned to the cellblock despite complaints about him.

Hubbard also said he complained to Snider, who was accused by Wisdom of tossing one prisoner into a pile of bodies.

The investigators' records obtained by The AP do not say what, if anything, happened after Hubbard's complaints.

Staff Sgt. Reuben Layton, a medic at the prison, told investigators he saw Graner hit a wounded detainee. Layton said he ordered Graner to remove handcuffs from the prisoner but did not report the incident.

Taguba cites two others who did not go along with abuses. The report says 1st Lt. David O. Sutton stopped an abusive act and reported it to his chain of command.

Taguba also hailed Master at Arms 1st Class William J. Kimbro, a Navy dog handler, for refusing to participate in abuses despite "significant pressure from the MI (military intelligence) personnel at Abu Ghraib."

Several photos from Abu Ghraib depict troops using dogs to intimidate detainees.