msnbc.com news services
updated 9/9/2004 8:37:53 PM ET 2004-09-10T00:37:53

The United States may have kept up to 100 “ghost detainees” in Iraq off the books and concealed from Red Cross observers, a far higher number than previously reported, an Army general told Congress on Thursday, as congressional hearings got under way on alleged prison abuse incidents in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Estimates were rough because the CIA has withheld documents on concealed prisoners, Army generals who investigated U.S. abuses of Iraqi prisoners told lawmakers. Republican and Democratic senators blasted the CIA, and called for the agency to turn over the material.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gen. Paul Kern, commander of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, said he believed the number of ghost prisoners held in violation of Geneva Convention protections was “in the dozens to perhaps up to 100,” far surpassing the eight people identified in an Army report.

Maj. Gen. George Fay, deputy commander at the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, said he expected it may be two dozen or more. “We were not able to get documentation from the Central Intelligence Agency to answer those types of questions. So we really don’t know the volume,” he said.

The Geneva Conventions require countries to disclose information on prisoners to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors their treatment.

Officers call for inquiry
The congressional hearings started Thursday, but some retired military officers had earlier called for creation of an independent commission to get to the bottom of the 4-month-old scandal.

“We cannot ignore that there are now dozens of well-documented allegations of torture, abuse and otherwise questionable detention practices” eight former generals and admirals said in a Wednesday statement on prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

In-house Pentagon probes don’t require sworn testimony, don’t have subpoena power and are examples of the military trying to police itself, the officers said in a letter to President Bush.

Most of the officers had backgrounds in military law.

Two of them have called for President Bush’s defeat in November.

Pentagon: Earlier probe was independent
The Pentagon says a probe headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger was independent, but its members were appointed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has been criticized in the scandal.

An Army investigation headed by Fay concentrated on which military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq could be charged with crimes under military law. But Fay’s group also said the Army’s top commanders in Iraq shared some blame for management failures.

The Schlesinger report looked at Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay as well as Iraq and at military police, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Rumsfeld as well as intelligence officers in Iraq. It concluded that while lower ranking soldiers might be charged, some blame could go to the highest levels of the Pentagon for inadequate supervision and failure to adapt to developments.

A Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that months of piecemeal military investigations have left officials and the public without a full idea of exactly what happened and who is responsible.

“It’s about time we had an investigation that is complete and answers all the questions,” Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said in telephone conference with several reporters.

The scandal created international revulsion four months ago with disclosure of photographs showing troops threatening prisoners at Abu Ghraib with dogs, posing them in sexual positions and keeping prisoners naked and hooded.

300 allegations under investigation
Though defense officials said the photos portrayed the actions of a few bad apples, the controversy has grown to include probes of some 300 allegations of prisoner deaths, torture or other mistreatment, some during interrogations to gather intelligence.

Abuses occurred as long as nearly two years ago — among prisoners taken in the campaign to rout al-Qaida from Afghanistan.

Critics say fault may ultimately rest with White House and Pentagon leaders for creating confusion when they decided in early 2002 that terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay did not fall under Geneva Conventions and then sought to redefine longtime rules of detention, interrogation and trials to suit the counterterrorism war.

Reed decried what he called “the corrosive effect of ignoring laws and regulations.”

“After a while, the rules are anybody’s guess,” he said.

The roll call
The retired military leaders who wrote to Bush were Rear Adm. John D. Hutson, Navy judge advocate general from 1997 to 2000; Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, Marine Corps senior legal adviser from 1983 to 1988; Brig. Gen. James Cullen, former chief judge of the Army Court of Criminal Appeals; Maj. Gen. John L. Fugh, former judge advocate general of the Army; Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, currently a consultant in international security; Vice Adm. Lee F. Gunn, inspector general of the Department of the Navy until his retirement in August 2000; Gen. Joseph Hoar, a former commander of U.S. Central Command; Brig. Gen. Richard Omeara, who served in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

Hoar is part of a group of retired diplomats and military officers who has said Bush should be voted out of office because his policies damaged U.S. national security interests and America’s standing in the world.

Gunn is among 12 retired generals and admirals who have endorsed Bush’s Democratic rival Sen. John Kerry.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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