Iraqi Prisoner Abuse Appears More Extensive

Times Staff Writer

At least one Iraqi prisoner died after interrogation, some were threatened with attack dogs and others were kept naked in tiny cells without running water or ventilation, according to an account written by a military police sergeant who is one of six U.S. soldiers charged in a growing scandal over prisoner abuse in Iraq.

The account of Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick II, along with interviews Saturday with other soldiers in Frederick’s unit and senior U.S. and military officials, paints a portrait of a prison that spun out of control last fall as thousands of captured Iraqis poured into its razor-wire confines.

In some cases, as few as a dozen U.S. soldiers were responsible for overseeing more than 1,000 prisoners. Escape attempts were common. Mortar fire from insurgents rained down on prison grounds, killing U.S. guards and Iraqi prisoners.

Relatives of Frederick, who faces court-martial in connection with the alleged sexual and physical degradation of prisoners in Iraq, gave The Times a copy of the account that they said was handwritten by Frederick shortly after his arrest in January.

Frederick, 37, wrote that U.S. intelligence officers and civilian contractors who were conducting interrogations urged military police at the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad to take steps to make prisoners more responsive to questioning.


Military intelligence officers have “encouraged us, and told us, ‘great job,’ that they were now getting positive results and information,” he said in the neatly written 10-page document that covers a two-week period of last fall.

One U.S. official said 50 to 100 Iraqis had died in U.S. custody during the last year, victims of mortar attacks, heat exhaustion, wounds suffered in battles and attacks by other prisoners.

Although Frederick said one prisoner died after interrogation, the official said that so far no such allegations had been independently substantiated. He said the deaths from other causes amounted to a small percentage of the estimated 35,000 Iraqis who had spent time in U.S. detention centers.

Still, he said that the abuse allegations and other evidence showed that Iraqi prisoners had suffered under U.S. custody.

“There was a mentality that the people we’re in charge of are not humans,” the U.S. official said. “That’s not consistent with our values. The people who were doing this lost it.”

The New Yorker magazine reported Saturday that it had obtained a 53-page U.S. military report that concluded that Iraqi prisoners had been subjected to “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuses” at the prison, which before last year’s U.S.-led invasion had been Saddam Hussein’s primary killing ground for political enemies.

The author of the report, identified by the New Yorker as Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, said it appeared that some of the inmates had been beaten and sodomized, perhaps with a broomstick or a chemical light.

The revelations came as officials of the U.S.-led coalition governing Iraq rushed Saturday to try to stem outrage in the Arab world over photographs showing abuse of prisoners. The photographs, which first appeared on the CBS program “60 Minutes II” last week, shocked Arabs and Westerners alike, and brought strong condemnation from President Bush.

In one shot, naked Iraqi men with hoods are piled on top of one another. Behind them, U.S. soldiers grin and flash a thumbs-up. Another shows an Iraqi simulating oral sex on another Iraqi man. A third shows a hooded man standing on a box with wires attached to him. He was reportedly told that he would be electrocuted if he fell.

Those images were joined Saturday by photographs appearing in the Daily Mirror in England that allegedly showed British soldiers beating, urinating on and pointing a pistol at a hooded Iraqi prisoner. The bleeding and beaten Iraqi was later tossed from the back of a truck, his fate unknown, according to an account in the paper.

“Let me make it quite clear that if these things have actually been done, they are completely and totally unacceptable. We went to Iraq to get rid of that sort of thing, not to do it,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair told BBC television.

An Iraqi Governing Council member demanded a thorough investigation of the coalition soldiers. Besides Frederick, five other soldiers face court-martial charges. Military officials declined to identify those charged in the case. However, Frederick had identified the soldiers to relatives as: Sgt. Javal Davis, Pvt. Jeremy C. Sivits and Specs. Sabrina Harman, Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl.

Eleven others have been suspended as part of an administrative investigation. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who ran the prison last fall, has been suspended from her command.

Pentagon officials said Saturday that they were pushing to open all evidentiary and court-martial proceedings to the public. So far, military officers have recommended that three of the soldiers be court-martialed. Such recommendations are the military equivalent of indictments. Three other soldiers are still awaiting hearings. All are being held in Iraq.

“We’re trying to move on this as quickly as we can,” said Col. Jill Morgenthal, a military spokeswoman. “We’re taking this very seriously.”

The most serious of the charges mentioned in Frederick’s account involved an Iraqi who died, allegedly after an interrogation session at the prison.

A CIA spokesman confirmed Saturday that the agency’s inspector general had been working with the Defense Department on two investigations, one of which involved the death of a prisoner in U.S. custody last fall. A second inquiry involved allegations of abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

The CIA spokesman said he could not confirm whether the death investigation involved the same prisoner to whom Frederick referred. Frederick reported that interrogators “stressed him out so bad” that the man died.

No CIA officials have been mentioned in connection with the death, the spokesman said.

“We don’t have any direct involvement in the abuse incident,” said Bill Harlow, the agency’s spokesman.

Bill Lawson, Frederick’s uncle, said his nephew had told him that the interrogators in the incident in which the prisoner died were civilian contractors.

The Times reported Saturday that at least two private contractors helped in interrogations. One was CACI International, a Virginia-based firm that helps intelligence officials in Iraq at the prison. Sources said another was Titan Corp., a San Diego-based company that provides interpreters.

CACI confirmed that its employees had been questioned about events at the prison, but said it knew of no allegations of abuse against them. Titan declined to confirm that its employees worked in the prison.

Lawson said Frederick had told him that the civilian contractors doing interrogations were the ones most likely to order harsh treatment of prisoners.

“My nephew was in theory running [part of] the prison, but in reality, the contractors were,” said Lawson, who is acting as the family’s spokesman.

The accused soldiers, most of them reservists from the 372nd Military Police Company, have told relatives and military investigators that they lacked proper training or guidance in handling the Iraqi prisoners.

They blamed a failure of leadership that led to lax or nonexistent standards and pressure from the top to produce results in the intelligence-gathering efforts that were screening thousands of Iraqi detainees.

Frederick wrote that he saw naked Iraqis crammed into cells that were 3 feet by 3 feet, unable to lie down. He said he was instructed to place inmates in isolation cells without water or toilets for as long as three days at a time. Sometimes, inmates were handcuffed to the cell door or made to wear female underpants.

“I questioned this and the answer I got was this is how military intelligence wants it done,” Frederick wrote.

He also described incidents in which he believed force was used without justification. In one case, a man who appeared to be mentally disabled was shot with nonlethal bullets while standing near a fence, singing. In another case, a man with a broken arm was put into a headlock and choked, he said.

Frederick questioned his commander “about how prisoners were treated,” he wrote. “His reply was ‘Don’t worry about it.’ ”

Lawson said his nephew was struggling to figure out how to satisfy demands to soften up prisoners and, in so doing, had decided that pictures of naked and humiliated Iraqis were the most humane way to apply psychological pressure. Lawson explained the photos by saying that they were taken once to show to Iraqi prisoners to frighten them as they headed into interrogation.

Lawson said that Frederick had served for 20 years in the National Guard and had worked for six years as a correctional officer before going to Iraq, once receiving a commendation for preventing a prisoner from committing suicide.

“Nobody in the chain of command told him what to do or how to do it,” said Lawson, an Air Force retiree. “He was just instructed to go down there and do what the civilian contractors told him to do.”

Another soldier in the unit -- who is not among those accused -- also said there had been a lack of training. He said Iraqi insurgents frequently fired at the prison, which is near the tense city of Fallouja. Prisoners were constantly attempting to escape. The prison was dangerously overcrowded.

“There were no [standard operating procedures] at the prison and no training,” said the soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The conditions were very bad, and we were grossly undermanned.”

Frederick’s journal also opens a window into the intense fear that surrounded work at the prison. He said Iraqis, used to abuse under Hussein, realized that the Americans would not stoop to torture, and thus showed the guards little respect.

He also talked of constant petty corruption among Iraqi correctional guards, who sometimes smuggled in weapons and helped friends. And there was the constant fear of attack.

“I have been so paranoid since my arrival here with all the combat happening here,” he wrote toward the end of his account. “It has gotten to the point where I can’t rest. Just a voice or object dropped makes me jump.”