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CIA May Have Held 100 ‘Ghost’ Prisoners

Times Staff Writer

Pentagon investigators believe the CIA has held as many as 100 “ghost” detainees in Iraq without revealing their identities or locations, a much greater number than previously disclosed, a senior Defense Department official told Congress on Thursday.

However, the precise number of undisclosed prisoners and the conditions in which they have been held remain a mystery, said Army Gen. Paul Kern, because CIA officials have refused to cooperate with Pentagon investigators, denying repeated requests for documents and information on the detainees.

The CIA apparently has held between a dozen and three dozen unregistered prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad since the war in Iraq began in March 2003, and others elsewhere in the country, said Kern, who is overseeing the investigations of prisoner abuse. Pentagon officials had previously cited only eight cases of failure to account for prisoners, which is an apparent violation of international law under the Geneva Convention.

“If they fall under the category of ghost detainees, there are no records,” Kern told reporters after addressing members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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Members of the panel expressed surprise over the number of detainees and disbelief and outrage over the lack of CIA cooperation.

“The situation with CIA and ghost [detainees] is beginning to look like a bad movie,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said. “This needs to be cleared up rather badly.”

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said the panel should take further action on the CIA’s stance, a recommendation the committee’s chairman, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), said would be considered.

“It’s totally unacceptable that the documents that are requested from the CIA have not been forthcoming,” Levin said.

The revelations about the CIA’s refusal to cooperate with Pentagon investigators came amid demands for a new prison abuse inquiry by a panel patterned after the Sept. 11 commission. One member of the Senate committee, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), supports such an inquiry.

Both the Pentagon and the CIA inspector general’s office are independently investigating the practice, spokesmen for both agencies said, but Defense officials lamented what they described as a lack of cooperation by the CIA, which ignored requests for information.

“That needs to be investigated,” Kern said.

The CIA spokesman would not address whether the agency hid prisoners from international monitors, but insisted that it supports thorough investigations into the alleged abuses.

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“The CIA’s inspector general has been conducting a comprehensive review of the agency’s involvement in detention and interrogation activities in Iraq,” agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said.

U.S. intelligence officials in the past have denied Pentagon findings of widespread wrongdoing by CIA agents. At least three Iraqis have died while in CIA custody, one of them at Abu Ghraib, based on earlier Pentagon investigations.

Army Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, who led a portion of a Pentagon investigation, said prisoners were identified to military police by names such as “OGA 1" and “OGA 2.” The acronym, used by Defense officials to describe the CIA, stands for “other government agency.”

A report on military intelligence personnel at the prison released last month indicated that the ghost detainee practice had been ended. However, investigators told senators Thursday that the Geneva Convention permitted the military for security purposes to hold prisoners without registering them immediately.

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As the inquiry into the Bush administration’s handling of the prison abuse scandal focused scrutiny on the nation’s top spy agency, several senators also pressed investigators to hold Defense officials accountable.The failure of investigations to date to implicate senior administration and Pentagon officials for fostering an aggressive interrogation environment that might have led to abuses has rankled Democrats on Capitol Hill and other critics.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) urged attention to the roles played by Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who as top ground commander in Iraq at the time ultimately oversaw prisons; U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. John P. Abizaid; Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz; and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Kennedy recounted the reassignment of a Navy captain whose aircraft carrier collided with a boat, one of 11 naval officers who he said had been removed from posts this year.

“For the military officers in the Navy, the message is clear: If you fail, you’re fired,” Kennedy said. “Who is accountable? Who should be fired? Should it be Sanchez? Abizaid? Myers? Wolfowitz? Rumsfeld? The president? The buck has to stop somewhere.”

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Levin noted that in one case, Rumsfeld approved the off-the-books detention of a prisoner at Camp Cropper, another U.S.-run prison in Iraq, at the request of then-CIA Director George J. Tenet, a move the Bush administration later acknowledged violated international law. That prisoner has since been properly classified.

Several of the Democratic senators asked whether Sanchez should be disciplined for helping to create an environment that contributed to the abuse by failing to adequately staff the prison, which at its peak had a prisoner-to-guard ratio of 75 to 1, far in excess of an Army directive that the ratio not exceed 8 to 1.

Defense investigators faulted Sanchez’s oversight in two separate reports but defended him against punishment.

“Gen. Sanchez likely would have gotten his fourth star, and now is unlikely to get his fourth star,” said former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, who headed another investigation discussed during the hearing. “That is a kind of comment on failed responsibility.”

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Schlesinger reiterated his finding that aggressive interrogation tactics were transferred from the war zone in Afghanistan to the naval brig at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- where prisoners termed illegal combatants were deemed not entitled to the international safeguards accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention -- to Iraq, where the Bush administration has said detainees were accorded POW status.

In addition to Kern, Fay and other generals also faced the Senate panel to discuss their finding, released last month, that “higher headquarters,” including the U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon and the Defense Intelligence Agency, applied pressure for “timelier, actionable intelligence,” affecting decision-making at the interrogation facility at Abu Ghraib.

The prison abuse erupted into a public furor in April when photos emerged that depicted smiling GIs sexually humiliating and physically abusing detainees, in some cases stacking them naked atop one another and leading them around on leashes. Seven reserve military police soldiers have been charged in the abuses, and one of those has pleaded guilty.

The report by Fay and Army Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones cited 41 additional people, among them military intelligence troops, for joining in or condoning the abuse of detainees -- practices that included stripping prisoners naked, intimidating them with dogs and isolating them for prolonged periods.

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The two senior investigators added in the report: “There was at least a perception, and perhaps the reality, that non-DOD agencies had different rules regarding interrogation and detention operations. Such a perception encouraged soldiers to deviate from prescribed techniques.”

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Times staff writer Emma Schwartz contributed to this report.


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