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U.S. sought to boost prison training

Presented with reports of abusive behavior by U.S. military guards at Baghdad's main prison, the Army two months ago quietly dispatched to Iraq a team of about 25 military police experienced in running detention facilities to shore up training and supervision, Army officials said Monday.
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Presented with reports of abusive behavior by U.S. military guards at Baghdad's main prison, the Army two months ago quietly dispatched to Iraq a team of about 25 military police experienced in running detention facilities to shore up training and supervision, Army officials said yesterday.

It was the first group of such specialists sent to Iraq since the invasion last year, the officials said. The move followed an internal Army investigation that found military police at the Abu Ghraib prison largely unprepared for their role as guards and accused them of grossly mistreating Iraqi detainees, the officials said.

The decision to send the special team reflected an acknowledgement by U.S. military commanders that the abuse of detainees and laxness in oversight evident at the prison may extend beyond the small group of enlisted soldiers and officers charged or reprimanded so far and require broader remedial action.

Although military police are frequently used to take control of prisoners in the field and escort them to detention centers, most are not trained to operate prisons, the officials said. That responsibility falls to a tiny share of the Army's military police force -- about 970 out of 38,000 troops -- who receive specific training to run correctional facilities. The Army maintains several such permanent prisons in the United States and abroad.

The 25 specialists dispatched to Iraq will operate as a "mobile training team," the officials said, working with military police units that have rotated into the country in recent weeks to replace other forces.

U.S. military authorities have made no attempt to excuse the reported behavior of the guards at Abu Ghraib. Widely published photographs of their alleged actions showed naked Iraqi prisoners stacked in a pyramid or positioned to simulate sex acts with one another. In one case, a prisoner, pictured standing on a box with wires attached to his hands and feet, was reportedly told he would be electrocuted if he stepped down.

The episode has focused attention not only on the training of military police guards, but also on the techniques used by military intelligence agents and private contractors responsible for interrogating prisoners. An internal Army investigation has reported that the accused prison guards -- enlisted personnel from a reserve military police unit -- were acting on instructions from the interrogators, who told the guards to "set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses."

'Certain applications'
A spokesman for the Army's military intelligence school at Fort Huachuca in Arizona said soldiers receive extensive instruction in laws prohibiting physical or mental torture in interrogations. But a brief summary of the instruction notes that "certain applications" of legitimate interrogation techniques "may approach the line between lawful actions and unlawful action."

Intelligence operatives in Iraq have been under enormous pressure to identify and locate insurgents and determine the breadth of their support. Last fall, an internal Army review blasted the military intelligence-gathering operation in Iraq, saying it was being undercut by problems in the use of technology and the training of specialists. The report was especially critical of "the poor quality" of training given to some reserve intelligence troops.

Partly in response to such criticism, U.S. military commanders in the region began a major effort last fall to improve the quality of intelligence-gathering and analysis in Iraq, and also the transmission of intelligence products back to combat units for use in the field. The first major result was a better understanding of the networks that have sustained the insurgency -- a development that U.S. officials later credited with leading to the capture of former president Saddam Hussein in December.

But nothing the Pentagon has said about the alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib has suggested that the techniques yielded useful information. Experts in military law said yesterday that the reported behavior unquestionably violated international norms on the treatment of prisoners.

"It's clearly illegal," said John F. Perry, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. "Whether it's illegal as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, or it's illegal as torture, there's really no debate that it crossed the line."

More interesting and significant, Perry and other experts said, is how high up the chain of military command the assignment of responsibility should go.

The Army's internal investigation, completed in March by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, found "clear friction and lack of effective communication" between Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of the accused soldiers, and military intelligence officials operating in the prison. Although Taguba recommended that Karpinski be relieved of command and reprimanded for command failures related to the abuse, she has said responsibility for the abuses should be shared by her superiors, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Yesterday some legal specialists backed her argument.

"In international law, the standard is not only whether you knew but whether you had reason to know," said Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. "The question is: How far up the chain of command should people have been vigilant about the practices that were going on?"

Looser standards
Several military legal experts also said the Baghdad case may reflect a general loosening in standards for handling detainees stemming from conditions at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where captives from the war on terrorism are held. Indeed, Taguba indicated that the Guantanamo experience has provoked a sharp debate inside the military over the role of military police.

In late August and early September 2003, a team from Guantanamo overseen by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller visited Iraq to advise U.S. prison operations there. Among its recommendations were that military police guards act as "enablers" for interrogations, Taguba reported.

But Taguba challenged the notion that Iraqi detainees should be treated similarly to suspected terrorists in Guantanamo. He sided with another officer, Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, who recommended in another report last November that military police avoid even a supporting role in interrogations.

While many of the reported tactics in the Abu Ghraib case exceeded legal bounds, some of the less abusive ones appeared in line with certain "stress and duress" techniques known to be used by U.S. military and CIA interrogators. Last year, after the deaths of two Afghan prisoners in U.S. custody at Bagram air base outside Kabul, human rights groups pressed the Bush administration for a clearer position on permissible interrogation measures.

On June 26, 2003, the administration pledged for the first time that the United States would not torture terrorism suspects or treat them cruelly in an attempt to extract information. "All interrogations, wherever they may occur," must be conducted without the use of cruel and inhumane tactics, Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II wrote to Congress.

Human rights activists believed the administration had agreed to bar such techniques as depriving prisoners of sleep, withholding medicine and forcing prisoners to stand for long periods in painful positions. U.S. authorities have used each technique against captives held abroad in the war on terrorism, according to current and former national security officials interviewed last year by The Washington Post.

Staff writer Dana Priest contributed to this report.