Military investigators who combed through the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq this year were told that one detainee was slammed head-first into a wall and later died, and that another was dunked in urine.
They also encountered intelligence officers who said they never saw the abuse and humiliation that was occurring.
Only one intelligence team member acknowledged seeing any of the thousands of photographs and videos that were floating through the complex -- images of naked detainees so accessible that some were visible on computers at an Internet cafe in the prison.
Six military prison guards are awaiting courts-martial on charges of abusing prisoners and a seventh has pleaded guilty. As they seek to determine how far up the chain of command responsibility lies, agents of the Army’s Criminal Investigative Command are turning their attention to intelligence officers, civilian contractors and linguists who routinely had contact with detainees.
But their insistence that they were in the dark about prisoner abuse could make it difficult for investigators to seek criminal charges against intelligence unit members who the guards claim encouraged them to get rough with detainees in the first place.
Revelations about the intelligence squads and new forms of abuse are found in more than 100 pages of case files compiled by Army investigators. The material includes questionnaires, agents’ handwritten notes, victim statements and prison flow charts. It is not clear how much of the material was seen by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who investigated the abuse and issued a highly critical report that became public this month.
The documents obtained by The Times also provide new details of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners.
Detainees were forced to participate in contests in which military police tried to see how many detainees they could make cry or urinate on themselves. Happy faces were drawn across the bare chest of one detainee, who was nicknamed “Happy Nipples.”
Some of the documents are notes taken by an investigator as he worked his way down the cellblocks interviewing detainees. One prisoner told him he smelled alcohol on guards “many times.” Another said he was whipped, beaten and held for 40 days in isolation. A third said “they beat me with a broom and stepped on my head with their feet.”
Both victims and guards cited by Army investigators tended to confirm characterizations of Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr. as the most violent on Tier 1A in what was known as the prison’s “hard site,” where inmates considered high risk were kept. A guard said Graner would beat prisoners and then encourage his colleagues to “come get some of this.”
At one point Graner, who worked in a state prison in Pennsylvania before being deployed to Iraq, allegedly told another guard: “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’ ”
Another guard described in the investigative reports as particularly vicious was Staff Sgt. Ivan L. “Chip” Frederick II, who previously worked in a Virginia prison. After the investigation into the abuse was launched, he allegedly told a fellow soldier that this would ruin his civilian career.
“Nineteen and a half years down the drain,” he lamented.
The investigation began Jan. 13 when Spc. Joseph Darby, another member of the military police unit, slipped an anonymous, typewritten note under the door of the Army investigation command’s office at the prison, along with a photo disc that Graner had given him.
“To Whom It May Concern,” the note began. “I am writing this letter as a matter of moral ethics.”
Darby said he recently had seen “some very disturbing photos of inmates in the hard site prison, Tier 1A to be specific. I had heard stories in the company about the incidents that were taking place but I did not believe them till I was given these photos.”
He identified Graner, Frederick, Pfc. Lynndie England, Spc. Sabrina Harman and Spc. Megan Ambuhl, all charged in the investigation, as key figures in the abuse, as well as Spc. Jeremy Sivits, who pleaded guilty last week to abusing prisoners and was sentenced to a year in prison. Sivits is expected to testify against the others.
“I am writing this to try to right the wrongs that I have seen in these photos and video clips,” Darby wrote. “Since no one will come forward ... I feel something must be done. So I am giving this disc to you. Do with it as you wish.”
He signed the note, “Concerned MP.”
Much of the alleged abuse began last October, when the military was under mounting pressure to collect information regarding the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and other potential threats to U.S. forces.
After being tipped off by Darby, agents first interviewed guards, then gave intelligence team members a one-page sheet with 11 questions. Twenty-five members filled them out.
Only seven acknowledged witnessing any mistreatment, and most of that consisted of minor incidents outside the prison. Only one said he saw a photograph of abuse. And while 15 said they had heard about abuse, only one reported it to a superior.
Of those who said they knew of mistreatment, Staff Sgt. Russell Henderson said he was told of two occasions in which “several” soldiers “used undue force with host nationals at the front gate” of the prison.
Capt. Tyler Craner said he had heard that three soldiers from the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion based at Ft. Bragg, N.C., were disciplined for having “a female detainee strip.”
Torin Nelson, a civilian working with interrogators, said that an angry guard shoved a prisoner and that an interrogator “picked up [an elderly] detainee by the cuffs and dragged him to the interrogation booth, yelling at him because he had fallen to the ground.”
Spc. Paul Son answered “yes” to whether he had witnessed abuse at Abu Ghraib, then used the back half of the questionnaire to lash out at his command for forcing interrogators to work in open areas while the compound was under nearly daily mortar attack.
Two soldiers died and 13 others were injured in an attack Sept. 20 “as a direct result of obeying the orders given by the chain of command to continue with night operations in tents rather than hardened facilities,” Son wrote. “Hardened facilities were available, and efforts were made to convince the chain of command to allow soldiers to work in the bunkered buildings or to discontinue night interrogation operations.”
Other interrogators acknowledged that they suggested that guards use tactics such as sleep deprivation and playing loud music to keep prisoners awake. The interrogators denied telling guards to hit detainees, strip them naked, pile them on the floor or force them to masturbate. They also denied requesting photographs of the humiliations to scare other detainees into talking, as has been reported.
The investigation documents include wrenching accounts from prisoners. In one case, a detainee said he was severely punished after guards accused him of planning to use a broken toothbrush to attack them.
The prisoner, identified as Abdoul Wahab Younes Ahmed, denied that the toothbrush was his. He said he was stripped, deprived of his mattress and cuffed to the cell floor.
“After that they took me to a closed room and more than five of the guards poured cold water on me and ordered me to put my head in someone’s urine that was already in that room,” he said. “They beat me with a broom and stepped on my head with their feet while it was still in the urine. They pressed my [rear end] with a broom and spit on it” while a female soldier stood on his legs.
He said a leader of the day shift crew would give him his clothes back, but that “at night Graner took them away.” The treatment went on for three days, the prisoner said.
Another prisoner, identified as Solaiman Saadi Solaiman, said his hands were cuffed to a prison wall merely for asking a guard, Sgt. Hydrue S. Joyner, what time it was. When Graner came on duty that evening, the prisoner said, “he hit me hard on my chest and he cuffed me to the window of the room about five hours and did not give me any food that day.”
During 67 days in the cellblock, the prisoner said he “saw lots of people getting naked.” During the first days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, guards came in “with two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and Graner was beating them.”
“Other guards were watching and taking pictures from top and bottom” of the prison tier, he said.
England told investigators that it was Graner’s idea to stack naked prisoners in a pyramid, and that Frederick forced them to masturbate. Sgt. Javal S. Davis, another accused guard, said Graner “handled” the unidentified prisoner who was plowed into a wall, suffering cuts that required stitches. That prisoner is “deceased now,” Davis said.
It was not clear which prisoner Davis was referring to, although the Pentagon is investigating as possible homicides two cases involving blunt force injuries at the prison.
Lawyers for the six guards awaiting trial maintain that intelligence officers pressured their clients to abuse prisoners to extract more information.
Graner’s lawyer, Guy Womack of Houston, said recently published photos of the abuse prove it was engineered by military intelligence officers. He said guards did not know enough about Iraqi society to humiliate prisoners in such ways.
Womack said they would not have known that licking the bottom of a shoe -- which some prisoners were allegedly ordered to do -- is seen as a particularly offensive act.
“Only the intelligence officers who study the psyche of the prisoners know that there are certain poses and ways to stage them,” Womack said. “They know what type of humiliation will be the most effective. The MPs would have had no way to understand the significance of that. It’s a cultural thing.”
Womack said intelligence officers ordered the construction of a plywood wall inside Abu Ghraib so there would be fewer witnesses to abuse, and he said they orchestrated the mistreatment so that almost all of it took place at night.
The Army investigators’ notes also say that one of the accused guards, Davis, lied when he said that he unintentionally stepped on prisoners’ fingers and toes. Davis told investigators that he and a detainee he was escorting “both fell as we stumbled over another prisoner” lying on the cellblock floor, and stepped on the prisoner as he was trying to help him up.
Investigators did not believe that account and said in the report obtained by The Times that Davis “lied on first statement about abuse.”
In another incident in which detainees were piled naked in a pyramid and Graner posed for a photograph as if he were about to punch one of them, the notes say that Harman, another accused guard, “did not feel what happened was wrong.”
Times staff writer Scott Gold in Houston contributed to this report.