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New Allegations of Widespread Prisoner Abuse in Iraq Emerge As Abu Ghraib Soldiers Sentenced; Abu Ghraib General Writes Book

by Matthew T. Clarke

PLN has previously reported the abuse of prisoners in American military prisons in Iraq. [PLN June 2004, p. 1; Nov. 2004, p. 36; Dec. 2004, p. 26]. The most infamous location where prisoner torture took place is Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. The brigadier general over the prison at the time the photos were taken recently gave a interview on Democracy Now! which revealed the conditions that led to the abuse and how high the responsibility for military prisoner torture goes in the administration. Meanwhile, a few low-ranking soldiers were courtmartialed for their role in what the government continues to claim was a few rouge prison guards' actions. Yet new allegations are surfacing of widespread prisoner abuse in Iraq.

On October 26, 2005, Janice Karpinski, the former commander of 800th MP Brigade, which ran Abu Ghraib when the infamous photos were made, gave an interview coinciding with the release of her new book: One Woman's Army. She remains the highest ranking officer to receive disciplinary action in the scandal, having been demoted from brigadier general to colonel.

Karpinski described how she took command of 2500 MPs who had no training for detention, how she was placed in charge of 17 POW facilities, and how her headquarters was set up near the Syrian border, far from Abu Ghraib. She described nightly mortar attacks with no combat support and resources stretched beyond their limits by prison overcrowding.

She told of how Donald Rumsfeld visited Abu Ghraib in September 2003, but cut out actually touring the prison in favor of some photo opts with soldiers. The following day, Major General Geoffrey Miller, then commander of the Gitmo prison, and 22 staff members visited Abu Ghraib. He offered to fund two "Hard Site" cellblocks (1A and 1B) which were to be placed under the command of Military Intelligence (MI) Brigade Commander Colonel Papus. This was to be a maximum-security section of the prison where "high-value" prisoners would be interrogated. The purpose of this, in Miller's words, was to "Gitmoize" Abu Ghraib.

Karpinski claims that this essentially took those cellblocks, where the infamous photos were made, out of her direct oversight. She also stated that, when she learned of the photos via email on January 12, 2004, she drove from her headquarters to the Hard Site. There she saw Rumsfeld's memo on interrogation (basically allowing torture) posted on the wall.

Karpinski claims that the only time she violated the Geneva Convention was when she kept a prisoner, known as Prisoner XXX, a high-value detainee, off the official rolls. She said she was ordered by Rumslfeld to do this and obeyed the order even though she knew it violated the Geneva Conventions. She also admitted that Abu Ghraib was in a constant state of near-noncompliance with the Geneva Conventions due to poor facilities, extreme environmental conditions, and lack of funds for operations such as laundry.

On September 27, 2005, Pfc. Lynndie England, 22, whose smiling visage as she abused prisoners in the infamous Abu Ghraib photos became the face most associated with the scandal, was sentenced to three years in prison after having been found guilty of four counts of mistreating prisoners, one count of conspiracy to mistreat prisoners and one count of committing an indecent act. Her defense had been that she was only trying to please her boyfriend and father of her 1-year-old son, Cpl. Charles Graner. Jr., a former SCI Greene (where Pennsylvania's Death Row is located) prison guard, who told her to abuse the prisoners. Since returning to the U.S., Graner has married Megan M. Ambuhl, another reservist involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

At England's trial, Graner testified that junior soldiers on the night shift had been left largely unsupervised and he had directed England to pose for the photos. He also testified that MI personnel had witnessed and condoned the abuse of prisoners, including him beating a prisoner almost to death. However, that claim did not help in England's case as it was revealed that the prisoners in the photos with her were not under interrogation, but prisoners suspected of crimes who had been initially housed in a tent city on the prison compound, but later brought into the building as punishment for a riot in the tent city area.

Graner was found guilty of prisoner abuse and given a ten year sentence and a dishonorable discharge. Other related Abu Ghraib cases include the following: Spc. Megan M. Ambuhl pleaded guilty to failing to prevent or report prisoner abuse and was demoted and given an "other than honorable" discharge. SSg. Ivan L. Frederick III pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty, mistreatment of detainees and other charges. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison and given a bad conduct discharge. Spc. Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty to taking photos of naked and humiliated prisoners and given a one year sentence and a bad conduct discharge. Sgt. Javal Davis pleaded guilty to assault, dereliction of duty and lying to investigators. He was given a 6 month sentence and a bad conduct discharge. Spc. Sabrina Harman was found guilty of conspiracy, mistreatment of prisoners and derilection of duty. She was given a six months sentence and a bad conduct discharge. MI Spc. Roman Krol pleaded guilty to abusing prisoners and was given a ten month sentence. MI Spc. Armin Cruz pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mistreating prisoners and was given an eight month sentence.

Recently the government's claim that it was just a few bad apples on the night shift at a single prison was dealt a blow by a Human Rights Watch report that quotes a decorated captain from the elite 82nd Airborne Division as stating that he routinely witnessed similar abuse in other locations. West Point graduate Captain Ian Fishback witnessed prisoners being "forced into uncomfortable positions for prolonged periods of time for the express purpose of coercing them into revealing information other than name, rank and service number." He witnessed prisoners being deprived of sleep, stripped, beaten and exposed to the elements at Camp Mercury near Fallujah.

"We had prisoners stacked in pyramids, not naked but they were stacked in pyramids," said Fishback. "There was also a case where a prisoner had cold water dumped on him and then was left outside in the night."

The most important part of Fishback's statement is its revelation of the attitude of the Army's officer corps. This is expressed in a statement he made about the week the Abu Ghraib photos came out.

"[A]s the week progressed I watched them on the news and they showed some of the pictures--not all of them--a large portion of the pictures were in accordance with what I perceived as U.S. policy. Now all the stuff with sodomy with the chem light and all that was clearly beyond what I would have allowed to happen on a personal moral level and what I thought the policy was. But the other stuff, guys handcuffed naked to cells in uncomfortable positions, guys placed in stress positions on boxes, people stripped naked.
All that was, if I would have seen it, I would have thought it was in accordance with interrogation procedures."

Two sergeants in the 82nd Airborne have given similar statements to Human Rights Watch.

"We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day," according to one sergeants quoted in the report. In another incident included in the report, a soldier broke a prisoner's leg using a metal bat. Sadly, the abuse, as well as deprivation of food and water, was often done merely for the amusement of the soldiers, according to the report. This abuse was so common the soldiers developed a slang for torturing a prisoner (referred to as a PUC--person under control) for amusement: "Fuck a PUC" meant to beat a prisoner. "Smoke a PUC" meant to force a prisoner to do extreme physical exertion until he collapsed. Soldiers would even show up on their day off to work out their frustrations on the prisoners, according to the report. The abuse was a daily routine participated in by all types of soldiers, even those with other duties, such as the camp cooks.

One sergeant stated that MI officers instructed the soldiers to abuse the prisoners.
"I would be told, 'These guys were IED (improvised explosive device) trigger men last week.' So we would fuck them up. Fuck them up bad ... At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are sets of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug ... We should never have been allowed to watch guys we fought," said the sergeant.

After having been abused, prisoners would be denied proper medical care. Broken limbs and similar serious injuries were treated with analgesics and medical personnel would note the injuries as having occurred during capture in their records.

The soldiers also reported being ear witnesses to abuse of prisoners by civilian-clothed persons they believed worked for the CIA.

Another soldier described the lengths of abuse.

"As long as no PUCs came up dead, it happened," said the soldier. "We kept it to broken arms and legs."

Fisback points out the inequity of holding junior soldiers responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

"It is unjust to hold only lower-ranking soldiers accountable for something that is so clearly, at a minimum, an officer corps problem, and probably a combination with the executive branch of government," said Fishback.

Captain Fishback only went outside the Army after repeatedly attempting to report the prisoner abuse through his chain of command, including his company commander, battalion commander and the Judge Advocate Corps for a total of seventeen months. He began trying to report the abuse after he saw the testimony of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during the congressional hearings on Abu Ghraib. Rumsfeld testified that the U.S. was adhering to the letter of the Geneva Conventions in Iraq. Fishback knew this was wrong and thus became cognizant of the disconnect between official policy and actual practice regarding treatment of prisoners in Iraq. Each attempt at reporting the abuse or seeking clarification of the rules regarding prisoners was met with his superiors ordering him to keep quiet and threats to his career if he talked. He then reported the prisoner abuse to the Senate Armed Services Committee and Human Rights Watch.

Let us hope that the continued publicity and interest about prisoner abuse will lead to a reduction in the abuse. According to one of the sergeants, the Abu Ghraib scandal did not stop the abuse, but made the soldiers more cautious. As of September 2005, 230 members of the military have been disciplined for prisoner abuse. This supports Fishback's allegations that prisoner abuse is endemic in foreign military prisons. Sources: Seattle Times, USA Today, Denver Post, KPFT-FM Democracy Now!, BBC News, Time, New York Times.

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