A Nov. 6 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross gave the Army a detailed catalog of sexual and physical abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and said the military had promised to correct the problems.
The report provides details of what Army officials were told about the abuses early on and raises further questions about the adequacy of the military’s response.
The four-page Red Cross “working paper,” based on prison inspections in October, alerted the Army that it was in violation of the Geneva Convention that was intended to protect prisoners of war. It also repeatedly noted that Army officials had pledged to “follow up” on Red Cross recommendations.
Yet the Army’s official response to the Red Cross, dated Dec. 24, significantly played down the abuse and indicated that the military would make improvements “where possible and appropriate.”
It was not until Jan. 14, the day after a prison guard provided Army officials with photographs documenting abuse and sexual humiliation, that the military began an investigation.
A previously disclosed Red Cross report, dated in February, summarized problems at Abu Ghraib and more than a dozen other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. But the Nov. 6 document, part of which was reported by the New York Times this month, serves as a guide for determining what the military command knew of the abuses and when.
In congressional hearings this month, Army leaders expressed frustration over how the abuse was allowed to continue unchecked. At times, they seemed unsure of what had transpired.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq whose office helped draft the December response to the Red Cross, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he did not “recall exactly” what was in that three-page memo.
Gen. John Abizaid, who is Sanchez’s boss, said the Army had “a real problem with ICRC reports and the way that they’re handled and the way they move up and down the chain.”
Col. Marc Warren, who works for Sanchez as the top Army lawyer in Iraq, acknowledged that the Red Cross inspections and the November report had been “handled in a haphazard manner” by the Army.
The military investigation triggered by the photographs has led to criminal charges against seven military police officers so far. One of the officers has pleaded guilty.
Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein tortured and executed many inmates, was refurbished and reopened by the U.S. military in August to hold the thousands of criminals, insurgents and others rounded up as resistance to the U.S. occupation mushroomed.
Red Cross inspectors made their initial visits to the prison Oct. 9-12 and Oct. 21-23.
The Nov. 6 report said the inspectors had to negotiate their way through “many obstacles to be able to carry out the visit.”
“Restrictions were imposed, apparently at the behest of Military Intelligence,” it said.
In addition, the report said, “free access was denied” to some areas of the prison and limitations were placed on the “duration and content” of interviews with detainees.
The first prisoners inspectors saw were naked men in cells who were using small, empty Army Meal Ready to Eat packages as “the only way to cover their nudity,” the report said. The inspectors demanded that detainees be clothed for interviews.
The report voiced greatest concern “about the ill-treatment and conditions of the internees under interrogation held in Unit 1A.” That is the prison’s “hard site,” where much of the abuse was photographed just one night after the report was finalized.
“The ICRC found that there was a high level of depression, feelings of helplessness, stress and frustration, particularly among the detainees in the isolation cells,” the report said.
“The allegations of ill-treatment documented and witnessed by delegates included deliberate physical violence and verbal abuse,” it said.
The report listed five main allegations:
* The guards made “threats during interrogation.”
* They used “insults and verbal violence during transfer to Unit 1A.”
* They employed “sleeping deprivation: loud music, light on in the cell during night.”
* They made the detainees walk “in the corridors handcuffed and naked, except for female underwear over the head.”
* They kept the detainees “handcuffed either to the upper bed bars or doors of the cell for 3-4 hours.”
The report noted that “some detainees presented physical marks and psychological symptoms.”
“Some detainees presented significant signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behavior and suicidal ideas,” the report said. “These symptoms appeared to have been provoked by the interrogation period and methods.”
Inspectors found “obvious scars around wrists, allegedly caused by very tight handcuffing.... In some cells, beds were without mattresses and blankets.”
In addition, the report said, prisoners were malnourished, and some were kept in an outside yard with little or no protection from mortar shelling.
The inspectors also learned that female prisoners were kept in the same clothing they wore when they were captured, that water was not always available and that some detainees “could not wash themselves.”
Many detainees had little or no contact with their families. Requests for a copy of the Koran often went unanswered.
Many prisoners did not appear to know what they had been charged with, while others “alleged that they had been tried and ordered released but were still in custody.” Others “had not seen a judge since their arrest.”
In nearly every citation of an abuse, the military pledged improvements.
“They promised to follow up,” the Red Cross said in the report. “The ICRC is confident that the authorities will give due consideration to this report and take all steps required so as to ensure fundamental standards for persons detained, as provided by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention applicable to protected civilians deprived of their freedom.”
The report is not addressed to any one individual in the Army. But Warren, the top Army lawyer in Iraq, said copies were distributed throughout Army headquarters in Baghdad.
Warren and Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who ran the military prison guard operation at Abu Ghraib, began exchanging drafts for the official response to the Red Cross. She has said she was asked to sign the response by Sanchez’s office, and did so on Dec. 24 -- without having read the Nov. 6 report or knowing the full ramifications of the allegations of abuse.
The Army’s response to the Red Cross said, “It is our desire all individuals in detention facilities be treated humanely, at all stages of the detention process.”
It added that “every effort” was being made to ensure that the Geneva Convention was being upheld. But the response did not directly address the allegations of abuse contained in the Nov. 6 Red Cross report, or say what actions had been taken to correct the problems.