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5/10/2004 03:12:00 PM | Timothy

Red Cross had told Administration of abuses
From the Wall Street Journal, via Daily Kos:
Red Cross Found Widespread Abuse Of Iraqi Prisoners

Confidential Report Says Agency Briefed U.S. Officials On Concerns Repeatedly
By DAVID S. CLOUD, CARLA ANNE ROBBINS and GREG JAFFE
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 7, 2004 3:13 p.m.

WASHINGTON -- A confidential and previously undisclosed Red Cross report delivered to the Bush administration earlier this year concluded that abuse of prisoners in Iraq in custody of U.S. military intelligence was widespread and in some cases "tantamount to torture."

Among other allegations, the report says prisoners were kept naked in empty cells at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison; that prisoners were beaten by coalition forces, in one case leading to death; that coalition forces fired on unarmed prisoners multiple times from watchtowers, killing some of them; and that coalition forces committed "serious violations" of the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of prisoners of war.

'TANTAMOUNT TO TORTURE'

Overall, the 24-page report, based on International Committee of the Red Cross inspections and interviews in Iraq from March to November 2003, alleges that prisoners in intelligence interrogations were subjected to harsh and often brutal treatment as part of a regular practice of trying to "obtain confessions and extract information."

The February report, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, presents a portrait of prisoner treatment in Iraq that is at odds with statements by administration officials that abuse wasn't condoned by military commanders and was limited to a handful of low-ranking soldiers.

Instead, the report says, information gathered by the ICRC "suggested the use of ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered a practice tolerated by" coalition forces.

...The U.S. Army, which was in regular contact with ICRC about its allegations, launched an inquiry into conditions at Abu Ghraib on Jan. 14, the day after photos of abused prisoners were passed up the chain of command. Some of the photos have become public in the last week, stirring anger at the U.S. around the world and spurring new questions about the war and occupation.

It could not be learned last night how widely read the ICRC report was among senior Bush administration officials. U.S. officials said yesterday that Secretary of State Colin Powell, for instance, had raised the problems with detention procedures at several high-level administration meetings this year. A State Department official said last night that he couldn't say when Mr. Powell first saw the report. But he noted that the ICRC had been making recommendations and raising concerns for a long time, and that Mr. Powell and other administration officials had been aware of that.

The ICRC report specifies that its findings were made available to the U.S. as part of a "bilateral and confidential dialogue."

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. troops in the Middle East, said the command had not received the report.

The report says Red Cross officials repeatedly briefed U.S. officials about their concerns regarding prisoner mistreatment beginning just after the war ended in May and continuing until the report was completed in February.

In mid-October, ICRC officials visited a section of Abu Ghraib where they witnessed "the practice of keeping persons completely naked in totally empty concrete cells in total darkness, allegedly for several consecutive days," the report says.

Upon witnessing the treatment in the prison, which included making male prisoners parade around in women's underwear, ICRC officials complained to the military intelligence officer in charge, who explained that the practice was "part of the process," the report says.

Despite the ICRC's October inspection and warning of abuse at Abu Ghraib in October 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters earlier this week that the allegations of guards sexually humiliating and abusing inmates at the facility didn't surface until Jan. 13, three months after the ICRC complained of the problem to military officials in Iraq.

In another episode detailed in the report, nine men were arrested by coalition forces in the city of Basra last September and taken to offices formerly used by the Iraqi intelligence service. There, according to allegations gathered by the ICRC, they were "beaten severely by [Coalition Forces] personnel."

One of those arrested, 28-year-old Baha Daoud Salim, died. "His co-arrestees heard him screaming and asking for assistance," the report says.

His death certificate, prepared by coalition forces, listed "cardio-respiratory arrest-asphyxia" as the condition leading to death, but said the cause of death was "unknown," the report says. An eyewitness description of the body reported a broken nose, several broken ribs and lesions on the face consistent with a beating, it notes.

The report also documents eight instances in which coalition forces opened fire -- in some cases from watchtowers -- on unarmed prisoners, killing seven of them and wounding as many as 20. "These incidents were investigated summarily by the coalition forces," the report states, noting that in all cases the coalition determined that "a legitimate use of firearms had been made."

The ICRC, however, disagreed, saying that in all cases "less extreme measures could have been used to quell the demonstrations," according to the report. In one case, a prisoner throwing stones was shot through the chest by a guard in a watchtower. The military said the shooting was justified. The ICRC, however, said the shooting "showed a clear disregard for human life and security" of prisoners.

...The report does document cases in which ICRC complaints achieved changes in practices. In May 2003, it says, after a memo detailing 200 allegations of mistreatment was given to Rear Adm. James Robb, non-Iraqi detainees were no longer forced to wear wristbands that read "terrorist."

The report notes that "ill-treatment during interrogation was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an intelligence value." Treatment of prisoners in military intelligence custody improved if they cooperated, the report says. It notes that when prisoners were transferred to facilities under control of military police, treatment also generally improved.

Last July, the ICRC sent the U.S. a report detailing 50 allegations of prisoner abuse at the military intelligence section of Camp Cropper, at Baghdad International Airport. Detainees were subjected to a variety of techniques aimed at pressuring them, the report says.

They included soldiers "taking aim at individuals with rifles, striking them with rifle butts, slaps and punches and prolonged exposure to the sun." One prisoner claimed he was "urinated on, kicked in the head, lower back and groin, force-fed a baseball, which was tied into the mouth using a scarf and deprived of sleep for four consecutive days."




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