General Detailed Conditions at Prison

Times Staff Writer

At the same time the Red Cross found widespread abuse of inmates last fall at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, a top military investigator concluded that the facility was badly understaffed, guards had received little or no training, personnel violated prison rules by carrying weapons and “basic security” measures to protect soldiers and captives were often ignored.

“There is virtually no trained professional correctional force,” Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s provost marshal, said in his report to senior Army officials.

He added that the “lack of policy and standard operating procedures results in inconsistent application of basic security protocols.”


His report covering U.S. prison operations in Iraq was submitted to authorities on Nov. 5. The next day, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued its own “working paper” to Army officials, outlining detainee abuses it had uncovered during inspections in October.

Taken together, the two reports show that the Army was put on official notice about deep problems at Abu Ghraib two months before a prison guard turned over photographs depicting the abuse, finally prompting a criminal investigation.

Since then, sworn statements by numerous prison staffers as well as media interviews of prison guards and intelligence officers have shown that there was widespread knowledge that the prison formally known as the Baghdad Central Detention Committee -- initially unused after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but reopened in August -- was a catastrophe in the making.

The Ryder investigation was conducted to help Army leaders determine how they would eventually turn over the prison operation to a new Iraqi government. But Ryder, although not documenting any abuse, found extensive problems with the way U.S. forces were handling prisoners.

He noted that many detainees were improperly classified as high-security risks upon their capture when, in fact, “numerous cases exist where Iraqis at most expressed displeasure or ill will with the U.S. personnel and have been held for several months, waiting for the case to be reviewed.”

He said military police officers had been brought to Abu Ghraib to serve as guards with basically no training in prison work. He contrasted them with guards at the prison for “enemy combatants” at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who had received 10 days of training in areas such as unarmed self-defense, training in interpersonal communication skills, forced cell moves and correctional officer safety.


Abu Ghraib guards operated under a “lack of procedures for the control of accountability of keys, tools and weapons” and often did not know when to allow civilian contractors inside the prison.

“Soldiers were observed inside the secure areas of detention and prison facilities with weapons,” Ryder said. “These soldiers were in direct contact with detainees, which is an unacceptable risk inside a confinement facility.”

Ryder called for metal detectors to be placed at all entrances and for visitors’ bags to be routinely inspected. He also urged background checks on all prison personnel.

“The potential for abuse, corruption and threat to public safety is such that extreme attention must be paid” to how the staff interacts with prisoners, he said.

The report also determined that the Army had no clear plans for the sprawling prison complex west of Baghdad -- whether to tear it down, “leaving only the death chamber as a memorial” to the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, or to keep it for top-security prisoners.

Ryder said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the American ground commander in Iraq, wanted to establish military commissions for trying detainees accused of crimes against the U.S.-led coalition forces, much like what is planned in tribunals for those held at Guantanamo Bay.




Abu Ghraib investigation

A day before the International Committee of the Red Cross issued its report on prisoner abuse in Iraq, a top U.S. military investigator released his own findings on prison operations at Abu Ghraib. Events in the prison scandal:

Oct. 9-12, 2003: Red Cross inspectors visit Abu Ghraib prison to interview detainees and monitor conditions there.

Oct. 21-23: Inspectors make follow-up visits, although they report that access is first denied and some stipulations placed on their tour.

Nov. 5: Army Provost Marshal Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder reports widespread problems at Abu Ghraib, including poorly trained guards, lax security, understaffing, and unsafe and unsanitary conditions.

Nov. 6: The Red Cross gives the Army a confidential ‘working paper’ titled ‘ICRC visit to Baghdad Central Detention Facility.’ It outlines a series of abuses inspectors found there, and notes that Army authorities promised to do ‘follow-up’ work and improve conditions.

Nov. 7-8: Much of the worst abuse at Abu Ghraib occurs, with photographs taken of naked detainees and smiling, jeering prison guards.


Dec. 24: The Army responds to the Red Cross’ Nov. 6 report, promising that ‘improvements are continually being made’ at the prison. The response is drafted in part by officials assigned to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq, according to Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who ran the prison guard operation at Abu Ghraib.

Jan. 13, 2004: Army Spc. Joseph Darby alerts Army investigators of the photographs and abuse, prompting a criminal investigation that leads to charges against seven soldiers and numerous other inquiries.

February: The Red Cross gives the Army its final report on Abu Ghraib, again formally documenting widespread abuse. No specific date is given for the final report.

May 7: Red Cross officials announce that they are dismayed that their recommendations were ignored, especially because ‘the ICRC was assured that its findings were being taken very seriously.’