War in Afghanistan and Iraq

Published — October 31, 2004 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

The Abu Ghraib supplementary documents

New installment of classified documents shows abuses at other prison camps

Introduction

Classified documents, obtained and posted by the Center for Public Integrity, reveal the extent to which problems at Abu Ghraib prison were mirrored in other confinement camps in Iraq. Above all, what emerges from the documents is a picture of troops tasked beyond their ability, lacking adequate training, support or supplies and hampered by inadequate or non-existent communication across different units and levels of command.

This second group of documents, including but not limited to supplements from Major General Anthony Taguba’s investigation into the abuse of detainees, offer one of the most revealing accounts to date of the several prison camps run by the U.S. military in Iraq and Kuwait. They were provided to the Center by Rolling Stone contributor Osha Gray Davidson (for his website, go to www.oshadavidson.com). The Center posted the first installment of the documents on October 8, 2004.

In response to ongoing lawsuits, the Defense Department has recently released roughly 6,000 pages of material related to the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. These released documents include most of the supplements to the original Taguba report, although many are heavily censored and some have been withheld entirely.

The special investigations, witness depositions, and briefing memos that the Center is now making available—none of which were previously redacted—describe the daily life at the various camps and their missions. In addition to detailing almost daily attacks and incidents at Abu Ghraib, investigations document escapes and shootings at several camps in Iraq and Kuwait. Testimony and documents also shed light on one of the earliest reported cases of prisoner abuse in Iraq.

Among the other camps, the documents reveal the most about Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, the site of an early incident of prisoner abuse in May 2003 . Soldiers from the 320th MP Battalion would eventually be identified after facing allegations that they were responsible for abusing several prisoners being processed into the Camp. An initial Criminal Investigative Division inquiry, started several days after the incident, named 10 soldiers who were involved in assaulting detainees. The accompanying investigative inquiry listed 31 witnesses, including soldiers and detainees. It recommended general courts martial against four soldiers on official charges of, among others, cruelty and mistreatment, assault, making false official statements and dereliction of duty.

Two other charges, obstruction of justice and conspiracy, were dropped due to lack of corroboration from more than one witness. The report by Lieutenant Colonel Chris Gentry also recommended action against five soldiers who had witnessed the abuse for failing to stop it. Gentry called one witness’s testimony—that he had turned away “because he could not bear to watch this treatment”—“especially disturbing.” Colonel Ralph Sabatino, a legal officer, in his testimony questioned the leniency of the decision to charge only four of the soldiers. Ultimately, the four soldiers recommended for court martial were discharged from the service, two on non-punitive general discharges. Another legal officer, Major William Proietto, thought that ultimately the decision not to court martial them was made for political reasons contrary to the desires of the overall head of Iraqi detention operations, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski.

Several soldiers interviewed stated that the Bucca abuse incident lowered the unit’s morale. Major Stacy Garrity, the head of detainee processing at Camp Bucca, reported in her deposition that “there became two factions; some that did believe it and were ashamed . . . and some that said they didn’t.” Herself a witness to the abuse, she began inquiries after she saw a detainee come in from processing “with his nose smashed in, and blood running down his face.” Citing her own subsequent estrangement from members of her unit, she argued for a separate “avenue where these things could be reported,” such as an outside ombudsman. She mentioned her commanding officer’s initial reluctance to believe the reports of abuse as one of her own reasons for going outside the normal chain of command. The commanding officer at the time was Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Phillabaum, who would later command the main MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib.

The documents show that several escapes and shootings took place at Bucca, a compound built from scratch on a landfill near an improvised British detainee camp. The prison experienced significant supply, personnel and logistical problems. Inadequate fencing was cited in more than one escape report, including in an investigation of a January attempt by seven detainees, two of whom got away. In addition to the poor visibility because of fog, other factors in the escape, according to the 15-6 investigation by Lieutenant Colonel Leigh Coulter, included “inexperienced compound guards, overcrowding and movement of guard assets from towers before a complete count was made.” An investigation of another escape that same month was more critical, finding that both the non-commissioned officer in charge of the shift and a military police guard stationed in the tower had little previous experience at the compound. The report also found that the non-commissioned officer failed to follow several standard procedures, including implementing visual inspections; it recommended that the NCO and four other soldiers be reprimanded.

One report documented a breakdown in discipline at Camp Cropper, a football stadium-size high security detention facility located at the Baghdad International Airport. In a June riot, detainees threw rocks, bottles and tent poles and began breaking out of the inner compounds. Shots were fired and five detainees were injured. The report would find that the MP units were unable to prevent the riots from escalating because of poor communication equipment and procedures, but it noted that two soldiers escalated the conflict, allegedly taunting detainees by taking off their shirts and flexing.

Many other soldiers would cite similar problems—including inadequate brigade-level organization and a lack of written standard procedures—at the different camps. Major Garrity stated that “not a whole lot of policies and procedures, regarding detainee operations came out. “ Lieutenant Colonel Coulter further told investigators that he “asked the Brigade for certain things in writing, but didn’t get them. I can’t answer why.”

The 800th MP Brigade—which was responsible for all detention operations in Iraq—and other units suffered personnel losses as troops were rotated away, injured or killed, but many units began their missions under-manned and with personnel from other units. Command Sergeant Major Joseph Arrison of the 800th MP Brigade told investigators that while preparing to deploy, the brigade had very little sense of who was being deployed with them, a situation he described as “a company here, a company there.” The commander of the 229th MP Company was assigned to his unit only four days prior to mobilizing. The 670th MP Company from California was forced to deploy without 80 of its soldiers so that other units in their battalion could ship out, lost a group of soldiers to another company and deployed with a platoon from another unit. “There was crazy shifting all over the state,” according to the 670th commander, Captain Mark Hale.

Other officers also commented on their units’ lack of effective training, preparation and expertise. Lieutenant Colonel Dennis McGlone, commander of the 744th MP Battalion, noted that one of his unit’s first missions in Iraq, a transport mission from Talil Air Base, was outside the scope of their training. Captain Edward Diamantis, by his own admission a relatively junior officer, gradually assumed responsibility for counterintelligence and intelligence operations for the entire 800th MP Brigade, but told investigators that he “didn’t actually figure out it was my title for a couple of months.” Asked by General Taguba if he thought the commanders of his unit were suitably experienced to conduct their mission, Major Anthony Cavallaro, the main operations officer for the 800th MP Brigade, said he thought they weren’t.

“Some of these sections just didn’t know what to do,” he said.

How we did it

The primary sources used for this report were the documents included as part of Major General Anthony Taguba’s investigation, supplemented with information from news organization accounts of other documents, memos and testimony generated as a part of the Bush administration campaign following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Center reviewed the documents, provided by Osha Gray Davidson (for his website go to www.oshadavidson.com) numbering more than 1,200 pages, in order to exclude sensitive information. Any information in the documents that we deemed could be used to identify or describe a detainee or informant was redacted to protect them from possible reprisals. Sensitive personal information of service members and contractors, such as social security numbers, was also redacted. Seven service members so far have been formally charged with involvement in prisoner abuse, and their identities as well as the allegations against them have been included. Many other individuals alleged to have participated in the abuse have yet to be charged and the Center removed their identities in cases where they were charged with direct involvement in prisoner abuse or other illegal acts and in cases where they were accused of actions that, while outside the scope of investigations into prisoner abuse, could nonetheless damage their reputations if made public.

The Center took steps to guarantee that sensitive information of militarily strategic or intelligence value was protected. An outside expert was consulted on documents that might fall under this category. Several phone calls on different days were also made prior to release to officials in the Defense Department and the Army, informing them of the nature of the documents and of the Center’s intent to publish them and offering to identify specific documents. As this report was going to press, the Center received notification from the office of Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone that they were declassifying some documents related to prisoner abuse. The Center was given no indication of which documents would be declassified.

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