ACLU Obtains New Details of Possible "Cover-Up" of Iraqi Prisoner Abuse

August 15, 2007 12:00 am

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Senior Defense Department Officials Failed to Act on Reports of Abuse, Documents Suggest


NEW YORK - Documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union provide new evidence of a possible “cover-up” of Iraqi prisoner abuse by U.S. forces in 2003, and suggest that senior military officials failed to act promptly upon receiving reports of the abuse. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also reveal that an Army investigator found that the conditions of prisoners held in isolation at Abu Ghraib qualified as torture.

“These documents make clear that prisoners were abused in U.S. custody not only at Abu Ghraib, but also in other locations in Iraq,” said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. “Rather than putting a stop to these abuses, senior officials appear to have turned a blind eye to them.”

The documents detail Army Office of Inspector General investigations of alleged improprieties by Major General Barbara Fast, Major General Walter Wojdakowski and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. These investigations were initiated by the Department of Defense, after the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, and absolved all three officers of blame.

The inquiry into Major General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer attached to U.S. command in Iraq at the time the Abu Ghraib abuses occurred, provides new details of her role in responding to reports of prisoner abuse in the vicinity of the Baghdad International Airport in the summer of 2003. The outcome of the investigation illustrates the Defense Department’s refusal to hold her, or any other senior military officials, responsible for failing to put a stop to the known abuses, said the ACLU.

The inquiry into Fast also includes the testimony of a colonel who compiled a report in November 2003 that documented potential abuse of Iraqi detainees by a joint Special Operations and CIA unit looking for weapons of mass destruction. Although the colonel’s name was blacked out throughout the records, the ACLU believes this testimony is from retired Colonel Stuart Herrington.

The colonel maintains that someone called him in late November with details of prisoner abuse that occurred in June or July of 2003 in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. The colonel’s source had previously complained about the abuse to Major General Dayton, Commander of the Iraq Survey Group in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction. The source had also reported the abuse to the Defense Intelligence Agency Chain of Command in Clarendon.

The colonel says that he met with Fast in late 2003 to brief her on his investigation and that he gave her a copy of his report. Subsequently, the Judge Advocate General’s office attached to U.S. Command in Iraq informed the colonel that it had found “no evidence to support the allegations that detainees were mistreated.” The colonel dismissed this conclusion as a “cover-up” and expressed “blunt dismay.” He could not fathom how his own report could be taken so lightly given that he had provided names of the witnesses and “already had two people who admitted it.”

The colonel testifies, moreover, that it was not until after the abuses of Abu Ghraib were made public, almost six months after he gave Fast the report, that she acknowledged finding his report in her e-mail account for the first time. Fast told him that she had not recognized his name and that she came across the e-mail while she was refreshing her memory on Abu Ghraib. The colonel testifies that he internally questioned the veracity of Fast’s claim of not having seen the report and whether “in light of the Abu Ghraib thing is this something here that’s convenient and comfortable?” However, based on his personal evaluation of her character, he decided that Fast must be telling the truth.

The Army Inspector General report clears Fast of all allegations of misconduct and concludes that Fast took prompt action to alert the proper authorities once she was informed of the alleged abuse.

Additional documents made public today by the ACLU reveal that Major General George Fay found that the conditions under which Abu Ghraib prisoners were isolated went far beyond the limits of abuse and were, in fact, torturous. Fay is quoted in the investigation as saying, “But what was actually being done at Abu Ghraib was they were placing people in their cells naked and they were - those cells they were placing them in, in many instances were unlit. No light whatsoever. And they were like a refrigerator in the wintertime and an oven in the summertime because they had no outside form of ventilation. And you actually had to go outside the building to get to this place they called the ‘hole,’ and were literally placing people into it. So, what they thought was just isolation was actually abuse because it’s - actually in some instances, it was torturous. Because they were putting a naked person into an oven or a naked person into a refrigerator. That qualifies in my opinion as torture. Not just abuse.”

Fay also says that a memo from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorizing removal of clothing created a “mindset” in which that kind of humiliation was considered an “acceptable technique.” He notes that even though Rumsfeld later rescinded the memo, not everyone received notice that the interrogation of naked prisoners was no longer permissible.

In addition to the documents made public today, the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit has resulted in the release of thousands of pages of government documents detailing the torture and abuse of detainees. The ACLU has created a search engine for the public to access the documents at:

The ACLU brought the FOIA lawsuit in October 2003 with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

In addition to Singh, attorneys in the FOIA case are Lawrence Lustberg and Melanca Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, P.C.; Jameel Jaffer and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

The documents released today are available online at:

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