By Chief foreign affairs correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/11/2004 5:30:08 PM ET 2004-05-11T21:30:08

A former Iraqi prisoner, Hashim Yasin, detainee number 15227, claims he was one of the men abused at the Abu Ghraib prison.  Through a translator, Yasin said, “They grabbed my wrist and forced me to perform a sexual act.”

But horror stories like Yasin’s were repeatedly ignored by American and coalition officials for more than a year, according to the International Red Cross.

The Red Cross told NBC News it made at least 29 visits to 14 separate Iraqi detention sites between March and October 2003, each time complaining in person and in writing to Coalition authority and military leaders.

“And yes, we did raise those concerns with U.S. authorities,” said Amanda Williamson of the International Red Cross.

Finally, in February, 11 months after its first complaint, the Red Cross gave a report to coalition leader Paul Bremer and Gen. Rick Sanchez, and warned that “physical and psychological coercion ... appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures … to obtain confessions and extract information” at Abu Ghraib.”

This despite President George W. Bush’s promise last year that Iraqi prisoners would be treated properly, as he expected Americans to be treated.

Bush had said in March: “I expect them to be treated, the POWs, I expect to be treated humanely, just like we’re treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals.”

U.S. officials say the White House and Pentagon ignored repeated warnings from Bremer and from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch said, “It was only when the pictures made them irrefutable that they then began to take action.”

Monday night, Amnesty International also accused the British government of killing prisoners at Camp Bucca, near Basra.  Despite months of Red Cross warnings, Monday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said no one told him.

“These are things that we only knew of in the last few days,” said Blair.

Monday night, the Red Cross says as many as 90 percent of the prisoners had been arrested by mistake and that Saddam Hussein’s top officials were systematically abused.

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