Latest Government Documents Show Army Command Approved and Encouraged Abuse of Detainees, ACLU Says

April 19, 2005 12:00 am

Media Contact
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004
United States


NEW YORK — New evidence disclosed in documents released by the Department of Defense confirms that soldiers who abused prisoners were acting with the “seeming approval” of senior command, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

“These documents provide further evidence that the chain of command in Iraq approved and even encouraged the abuse of detainees held in U.S. custody,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “Instead of holding that chain of command accountable for systemic detainee abuse, the U.S. government continues to thwart efforts to bring the full truth about who was ultimately responsible to light.”

A CD-ROM of 2,200 documents was released yesterday in response to a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, 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.

These latest documents include autopsy reports that provide new, often gruesome details about detainee deaths ruled to be homicides, including death by strangulation and “blunt force injuries.” Other investigative reports describe a mock execution of a teenage Iraqi boy in front of his father, who begged soldiers not to shoot his son, as well as an Army Medic’s description of two Iraqis who were “brutally beaten” by U.S. soldiers, in contrast to a captain’s contention that they “just got roughed up a bit.”

Significantly, the ACLU said, several documents link the abuses to a “command climate” that encouraged brutality.

A Staff Sergeant with the 104th Military Battalion, 4th Infantry, rebutting accusations that he improperly supervised an interrogator who assaulted an Iraqi prisoner, replied that comments made by senior leaders that detainees are not enemy prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions “have caused a great deal of confusion as to the status of detainees.”

“In hindsight,” he wrote, “it seems clear that, considering the seeming approval of these and other tactics by the senior command, it is a short jump of the imagination that allows actions such as those committed by [name redacted] to become not only tolerated but encouraged.”

The Sergeant also criticized his commanders for soliciting a “wish list” of alternative interrogation techniques and for using phrases such as “the gloves are coming off.” His remarks related to a previously disclosed August 17, 2003 e-mail sent by a captain in Military Intelligence asking for a “wish list” of what techniques they would like to use. Interrogators responding to that request sought approval for the use of “low voltage electrocution,” “phone book strikes,” “muscle fatigue inducement” and the use of dogs and snakes.

Two previously undisclosed responses to the “wish list” e-mail suggest a debate over the morality and legality of the techniques. One unidentified interrogator said that “our intelligence doctrine is based on former Cold War and WWII enemies,” and that “today’s enemy” understands “force, not psychological mind games or incentives.”

A second interrogator with the 501st Military Intelligence Battalion, however, stated: “It comes down to standards of right and wrong — something we cannot just put aside when we find it inconvenient. BOTTOM LINE: we are American soldiers, heirs of a long tradition of staying on the high ground. We need to stay there.”

Singh added: “The record before us establishes beyond any doubt that U.S. forces abandoned moral and legal principles enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and the Army’s own field manuals governing the treatment of detainees.”

To date, more than 30,000 documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The latest documents are online at /torturefoia/released/041905/.

Many of the documents obtained through the FOIA lawsuit formed the basis for a lawsuit filed last month by the ACLU and Human Rights First seeking to hold Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others accountable for the abuse of detainees. Details about the Rumsfeld lawsuit are online at

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

By completing this form, I agree to receive occasional emails per the terms of the ACLU’s privacy policy.

The Latest in National Security

ACLU's Vision

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.

Learn More About National Security

National Security issue image

The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.