Afghan Policies on Questioning Prisoners Taken to Iraq

Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmitt
Friday, May 21, 2004

WASHINGTON, May 20 — The interrogation center at Abu Ghraib prison was run by a military intelligence unit that had served in Afghanistan and that had taken to Iraq the aggressive rules and procedures it had developed for the Afghan conflict, according to documents and testimony.

Some members of the unit, part of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, from Fort Bragg, N.C., have already been quietly punished in connection with the abuse of an Iraqi woman at the prison, according to documents recently released by the Army.

In August 2003, the officer in charge of the unit, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, an experienced Army interrogator, posted her own list of "interrogation rules of engagement," which were inconsistent with those later issued for Iraq by the top American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, according to Congressional officials.

The Abu Ghraib prison's questioning area, the existence of which was classified information, was formally called the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center.

It was not in the cellblock where the severe abuses that have come to light in recent weeks occurred.

Interrogations took place in buildings outside the cellblock, and military police were not present.

To date, the only people charged with crimes in the abuse have been members of the 372nd Military Police Company, who served as guards in the cellblock.

But lawyers representing some of the accused say some photographs of the abuses also show unidentified military intelligence officers and contractors assigned to the interrogation center.

Some of the accused have said they were told or encouraged to harshly treat prisoners by military intelligence officers, as part of a broader effort to soften the detainees up for interrogation.

"Only one with Pollyannaish myopia could conclude that the M.I. community is not deeply involved in the abuse," said Gary Myers, a lawyer whose client, Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick II, is facing a court-martial in the case.

The Washington Post published in its Friday edition sworn accounts of prisoners who said they were abused at the prisons, as well as previously undisclosed pictures and images from a video of guards beating and humiliating naked detainees and forcing a number of them to form a human pyramid.

The article quoted the detainees as saying that soldiers abused them as punishment for breaking the rules of the prison.

In addition to the threats and humiliations that have previously been reported, the newspaper said the detainees were forced to retrieve food from toilets, were ridden like animals and were force-fed pork and liquor. One prisoner declared he had seen an Army translator having sex with a teenage boy detainee. Some of the detainees identified soldiers already charged in the case.

Neither the statements, nor the picture shed any new light on who might have ordered the abuse.

General Sanchez issued no rules to govern procedures for interrogations until after a visit last fall by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller. The rules he later issue emerged in stages, and some were contradictory. In a closed briefing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, a senior Army lawyer acknowledged that the process might have left unclear to some officers the degree to which harsh measures, including sensory and sleep deprivation, were permissible.

The interrogation center is the focus of a continuing inquiry into the role of military intelligence officers and civilian contractors who oversaw it.

Until now, very little information about the interrogators or the evolution of interrogation rules has emerged publicly.

But the role played by the center, formally established in September by Brig. Gen. Barbara G. Fast, the top intelligence officer in Iraq, has emerged in documents, testimony and interviews.

Beginning in September, the center was headed by Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan. Captain Wood acted as officer in charge. Elements of the 519th Battalion, including Captain Wood, had served as interrogators in Afghanistan, where the American military runs detention centers at Bagram Air Base and at a site in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan.

They were among several units that brought to Iraq "their own policies that had been used in other theaters," Col. Marc Warren, the top lawyer at the Army's headquarters in Iraq, said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.

In Afghanistan, military officials said, American forces use harsher tactics for interrogations than in Iraq, where it has insisted that the Geneva Conventions apply to all prisoners in American custody.

Colonel Warren and other Army officials have not said whether they believe the military intelligence unit put into practice at Abu Ghraib the harsher procedures used in Afghanistan.

A report by The Denver Post in April — based on Army records and published in April, before the broader Abu Ghraib scandal became known — disclosed that three soldiers from the 519th Battalion had been fined and demoted in a closed proceeding stemming from the abuse of an Iraqi woman at Abu Ghraib. It is not clear whether those soldiers reported to Captain Wood.

The records obtained by The Post were heavily edited by the military to delete the names of the soldiers involved and other details of the incident. Spokesmen for the XVIII Airborne Corps did not respond to repeated inquiries for more information about the incidents.

Captain Wood had served 10 years in enlisted ranks as an interrogator, and her unit specializes in "tactical exploitation" of intelligence, including interrogation of prisoners, Army officials said. It remained unclear on Thursday exactly when and where Captain Wood and her unit served in Afghanistan; a spokesman for the XVIII Corps in Fort Bragg said he was not able to provide that information on short notice.

Maj. Rich Patterson, the spokesman, also said that Captain Wood was no longer assigned to the 519th Battalion. An official at the Command and General Staff College, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., said she had graduated from an advanced officer's course there earlier this week.

Major Patterson confirmed that Captain Wood and her unit had been assigned to the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib last year.

No one has made public accusations of wrongdoing against Captain Wood or any members of her unit. But she and several other of its officers are named in military court documents as being among witnesses being sought by a lawyer defending a military police officer charged in connection with the abuse.

Among the questions that investigators are examining is how the rules that Captain Wood posted at Abu Ghraib differed from the directives issued by General Sanchez, including unsigned memorandums on Sept. 10 and Sept. 28, and signed directives on Sept. 14 and Oct. 12, each of which spelled out different rules.

Those directives are still classified, but their contents were described by Colonel Warren on Wednesday and Thursday by several Senate aides who were briefed by senior Army officials.

The unsigned Sept. 10 draft authorized approaches spelled out in Army Field Manual 34-52 and other widely used interrogation techniques, as well as sensory deprivation, which could mean the hooding of prisoners.

On Sept. 14, General Sanchez approved the first formal policy for Iraq that allowed the use of "sleep management" techniques, like limiting prisoners to four hours' rest each 24 hours, and stress positions, including standing or crouching for up to an hour at a time, Senate aides said.

That policy was sent to the Central Command and to other military, legal and intelligence experts for review. On Oct. 12, in response to objections from military lawyers, General Sanchez issued a second, much narrower policy that Colonel Warren said Wednesday complied with the Geneva Conventions.

Most of the harsher methods that had been automatically authorized in the Sept. 14 directive, like long-term isolation of a prisoner, were dropped in the October version, except in cases in which General Sanchez sanctioned them.

The Oct. 12 directive also ordered that interrogators take control of the "lighting, heating, and configuration of the interrogation room, as well as food, clothing and shelter" given to those questioned at Abu Ghraib, a Senate aide said. The memo directed interrogators to work closely with military police guarding the prisoners to "manipulate internees' emotions and weaknesses" to gain their cooperation.

As the officer in charge of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib, Captain Wood reported to Colonel Jordan, an Army reservist who arrived at the prison in September to take charge of the unit, which was established Sept. 20, according to a chronology provided by Senate officials.

In a report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, Colonel Jordan, Col. Thomas M. Pappas and two civilian contractors were identified as having been "directly or indirectly responsible" for the abuses.

Captain Wood's unit and Colonel Jordan both reported to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade under Colonel Pappas, who moved his headquarters to Abu Ghraib in September and was the top Army officer at the prison.