"A damning story of sanctioned abuse"

Contrary to Pentagon assertions, what happened at Abu Ghraib is not an aberration, an official memo obtained by the ACLU reveals.

Published December 9, 2004 2:54PM (EST)

U.S. military officials witnessed the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at a second Baghdad prison at the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal and were threatened and harassed when they attempted to report the abuse, official memos released by the Pentagon have shown. The documents, which were obtained by human rights organizations, contradict the Pentagon's claims that the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib was isolated to the jail and involved a handful of lowly reservists.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress last spring that he knew of no other reports of mistreatment outside the prison. However, documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that senior Pentagon officials who claimed that Abu Ghraib was an aberration were repeatedly informed of abuse elsewhere through official channels.

In a memo to Stephen Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Adm. L.E. Jacoby, details abuse carried out by members of a Special Forces unit known as Task Force 6-26.

The Pentagon responded Wednesday night by saying four troops serving on the task force had been disciplined and reassigned to other duties.

In his letter, dated June 25, Adm. Jacoby describes how two of his interrogators assigned to a detention center in Baghdad witnessed abuse by Special Forces troops. According to the memo, prisoners arrived at the facility with bruises and burn marks on their backs, and some complained of kidney pain. One of the two interrogators also witnessed officers "punch a prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention," the memo says.

Adm. Jacoby's memo notes that the task force supervisor immediately confiscated photographs of the abuse. The two interrogators were ordered not to leave the compound without express permission, and their vehicle keys were confiscated. They were ordered not to report the abuse to anyone in the U.S., and were informed that their e-mail was being monitored.

It is unclear when the abuse took place, but the interrogators reported the incident on June 24, a day before Adm. Jacoby sent his memo. "These documents tell a damning story of sanctioned government abuse, a story that the government has tried to hide and may well come back to haunt our own troops captured in Iraq," a statement from the ACLU said.

The documents also include material from a dozen FBI agents who worked at Abu Ghraib in late 2003, when the worst cases of abuse are thought to have occurred. "It is my opinion, as an FBI agent, that were this prison on U.S. soil, a judge would release almost every detainee for lack of evidence," one FBI official wrote. The agent's name was blacked out.

Several memos mention Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was sent to Abu Ghraib from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in August 2003 to step up interrogation to get more information from prisoners. Gen. Miller left Iraq this week for Washington to take charge of Army housing.

By Suzanne Goldenberg

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