New Army Documents Confirm Black Ops "Special Access Program" Unit Covered Up Detainee Abuse

January 12, 2006 12:00 am

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Army Knew of Systemic Abuse in Afghanistan Back in January 2002

NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today released new documents obtained from the Defense Department detailing abuse at U.S. facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. Included in the release is the first publicly available government document confirming the existence of a secret “Special Access Program” involving a special ops unit, Task Force 6-26, which has been implicated in numerous detainee abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation.

“These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials,” said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high level official has thus far been brought to justice.”

In one Army file, an investigator states that he is unable to continue an investigation into claims that a detainee captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, was stripped, humiliated and physically abused until he passed out, because the unit accused of the abuse is part of the Special Access Program (SAP). A memorandum included in the report states that “fake names were used by the 6-26 members” and that the unit claimed to have a computer malfunction which resulted in the loss of 70 percent of their files. The memorandum concludes, “Hell, even if we reopened [the investigation] we wouldn’t get any more information than we already have.”

Also included in the documents released today is a heavily redacted memo referring to a December 10, 2002 “SERE INTERROGATION SOP” (Standard Operating Procedure) for Guantánamo. SERE, which stands for “Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape,” is a secret military program under which detainees held in U.S. custody abroad are subjected to harsh interrogation techniques. According to the ACLU, this document shows that such techniques may have been formally authorized in a memo to military personnel at Guantánamo. The ACLU said it is unclear how this document relates to abusive interrogation techniques authorized for use in Guantánamo by Secretary Rumsfeld in a separate memo on December 2, 2002.

Several sworn statements of military intelligence personnel and a written “Chronology of Guard/Detainee Issues” also released today confirm that the Army began receiving reports of detainees being brutally beaten and abused in Afghanistan as early as January 2002. The documents show that abuse continued into 2004. A February 16, 2004 memorandum recording an interview of an American interrogator stationed in “Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility” in Afghanistan reveals that its “Standard Operating Procedure” included keeping detainees awake, standing and blindfolded without food for the first 24 hours. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” (a common military reference to the CIA) that include the use of drugs and prolonged sensory deprivation. A February 12, 2004 memorandum records the use of a “Fear Up approach” involving “disrespect for the Koran,” insulting the detainee, having a room upstairs with spotlights and turning the music on very loud.

In a March 28, 2004 report released today, the Inspector General of the Combined/Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram found several problems with detainee operations in Afghanistan, including a lack of training and oversight on acceptable interrogation techniques. The report states that “Army doctrine simply does not exist” and that detainees are not afforded “with the privileges associated with Enemy or Prisoner of War status” or the Geneva Conventions.

The documents further reveal gruesome accounts of torture and abuse by U.S. military personnel in Iraq. In one 2004 document, a civil contractor recounts in a sworn statement that he witnessed Marines pouring peroxide and water over the open wounds of an Iraqi prisoner. The contractor also reports that soldiers with the 372nd Military Police Company used slingshots against Iraqi children attempting to steal food from the base.

In another document, following the release of images of abuse at Abu Ghraib, one officer wrote on May 6, 2004, that abusive interrogation techniques, such as the application of cold or ice, loud music, sleep deprivation and confining detainees to a metal box, will “continue to cause us problems, as some interrogation techniques aren’t real defensible given the Abu Ghraib fallout.”

The documents released today are a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request 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.

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 Singh, Jameel Jaffer and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

To date, almost 90,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at

The documents released today are available at:

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