Iraqi Journalists Report Abuse as Detainees in U.S. Hands
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 18 — Three Iraqis working for Reuters said Tuesday that American troops beat them and subjected them to sexual and religious taunts and humiliation in January during their detention in a military camp near Falluja.
The three first told Reuters of the ordeal after their release, but decided to make it public only after the United States military said there was no evidence they had been abused and after the exposure of similar mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
An Iraqi journalist working for NBC News who was arrested with the three men also said he had been beaten and mistreated, NBC News said Tuesday.
Two of the three men said that they had been forced to insert fingers into their anuses and then lick them, and that they had been forced to put shoes in their mouths, a particularly humiliating act in Arab culture because the sole of the shoe is a symbol of uncleanliness.
All three said they had been forced to make demeaning gestures as soldiers laughed, taunted them and took photographs. They said they had not wanted to give details publicly earlier because of the degrading nature of the abuse.
The men said the soldiers had deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and hit them, forced them to remain in uncomfortable positions for long periods, and told them they would be taken to the United States prison camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
The United States military has denied the men's accusations. A report issued by the military before the abuse at Abu Ghraib became public said an investigation by the Army's 82nd Airborne Division had found no evidence that the Reuters staff members had been tortured or abused.
"The detainees were purposefully and carefully put under stress, to include sleep deprivation, in order to facilitate interrogation; they were not tortured," the report said. The version received Monday used the phrase "sleep management" instead. The military said it had not interviewed the detainees for the investigation.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said in a letter received by Reuters on Monday but dated March 5 that he was confident that the investigation was "thorough and objective" and that its findings were sound.
The Pentagon has yet to respond to a request by the global managing editor for Reuters, David Schlesinger, to review the military's findings about the incident in light of the scandal over the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
Asked for comment on Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said: "There are a number of lines of inquiry under way with respect to prison operations in Iraq. If during the course of any inquiry, the commander believes it is appropriate to review a specific aspect of detention, he has the authority to do so."
The Reuters staff members — Salem Ureibi, a cameraman based in Baghdad; Ahmad Muhammad Hussein al-Badrani, a freelance television journalist based in Falluja; and Sattar Jabar al-Badrani, a driver — said they were detained Jan. 2 while covering the downing of an American helicopter near Falluja. They said they were held for three days, first near Falluja at Forward Operating Base Volturno, where the abuse happened, and then at Forward Operating Base Ste. Mère.
"When I saw the Abu Ghraib photographs, I wept," Mr. Ureibi said Tuesday. "I saw they had suffered like we had."
Mr. Ureibi said soldiers had told him they wanted to have sex with him, and that he had been afraid he would be raped.
A reporter working on contract with NBC News, Ali Muhammad Hussein Ali al-Badrani, was detained along with the Reuters employees, NBC News said. The report said that a hood had been placed over his head for hours, that he had been forced to perform physically debilitating exercises, and that he had been prevented from sleeping and struck and kicked several times.
"Despite repeated requests, we have yet to receive the results of the Army investigation," said Bill Wheatley, a vice president at NBC News.
The Army said it was investigating and requested further information.