Lawmakers troubled by 'Ghost Detainees'

Published September 10, 2004 11:56AM (EDT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress may keep up the focus on the prison abuse scandal following the disclosure that the military has concealed as many as 100 ``ghost detainees'' from the Red Cross.

The presence of prisoners held by the CIA outside of the military's usual system of registration and care was an important finding of an Army investigation completed last month. Defense officials had previously only acknowledged eight such prisoners.

But on Thursday, Gen. Paul Kern, who oversaw the Army investigation of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the number was ``in the dozens, perhaps up to 100.''

Kern said he could not be precise because he did not have documentation. Maj. Gen. George Fay, who investigated military intelligence officers at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, said he doubts the figure is as high as 100. "I think it's somewhere in the area of maybe two dozen or so -- maybe more," he said.

Senators criticized the CIA's lack of cooperation in providing the information.

"The situation with the CIA and ghost soldiers is beginning to look like a bad movie," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield declined to comment on the number of cases. He noted the agency's inspector general is reviewing the CIA's involvement in detention and interrogations in Iraq. "We take these matters very seriously and are determined to examine thoroughly any allegations of abuse," he said.

The generals and the authors of a separate report on prison abuses discussed their investigations in a series of hearings Thursday by the Senate and House Armed Services committees.

Fay said the Army made several requests to the CIA station chief in Iraq for information about the detainees.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said in recent months that it suspects the United States is hiding detainees in lockups across the globe. Terror suspects reported by the FBI as captured have never turned up in detention centers, and the United States has failed to reply to agency demands for a list of everyone it's holding, the agency said.

Under the Geneva Conventions, the United States is obliged to give the neutral, Swiss-run humanitarian agency access to prisoners of war and other detainees to check on their conditions and allow them to send messages to their families.

At Thursday's hearing, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said, "It's totally unacceptable that documents that are requested from the CIA have not been forthcoming" and urged the committee to "weigh in on the issue." McCain said President Bush's nominee to head the CIA, Republican Rep. Porter Goss of Florida, should be asked about the matter.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate committee, said he may hold a hearing on the "ghost detainee" issue.

By Pauline Jelinek

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