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Red Cross: Iraq abuse ‘tantamount to torture’

Coalition intelligence officers estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake, and Red Cross observers witnessed U.S. officers mistreating prisoners by keeping them naked in total darkness in empty cells, a Red Cross report says.
A group of naked men are seen bound together on the floor of the Abu Ghraib prison in this image published in The Washington Post May 6.The Washington Post
/ Source: The Associated Press

Intelligence officers of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq estimated that 70 percent to 90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake, the Red Cross said in a report that was disclosed Monday, and Red Cross observers witnessed U.S. officers mistreating Abu Ghraib prisoners by keeping them naked in total darkness in empty cells.

Abuse was, “in some cases, tantamount to torture,” it said.

The report supports allegations by the International Committee of the Red Cross that abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers was broad and “not individual acts” — contrary to President Bush’s contention that the mistreatment “was the wrongdoing of a few.”

The report said “high-value detainees” were singled out for special mistreatment. It did not specify them, but The Associated Press has learned that they included some of the 55 top officials in former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s regime who were named in a deck of playing cards given to troops.

“Since June 2003, over 100 ‘high-value detainees’ have been held for nearly 23 hours a day in strict solitary confinement in small concrete cells devoid of daylight,” the report said.

“ICRC delegates directly witnessed and documented a variety of methods used to secure the cooperation of the persons deprived of their liberty with their interrogators,” according to the confidential report.

Immediate explanation sought
The delegates saw in October how detainees at Abu Ghraib were kept “completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness,” the report said.

“Upon witnessing such cases, the ICRC interrupted its visits and requested an explanation from the authorities,” it said. “The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was ‘part of the process.’ ”

This apparently meant that detainees were progressively given clothing, bedding, lighting and other items in exchange for cooperation, it said.

The report said investigators found evidence supporting prisoners’ allegations of other forms of abuse during arrest, initial detention and interrogation, including burns, bruises and other injuries.

The 24-page document, which the Red Cross confirmed as authentic after it was published Monday by The Wall Street Journal, said the abuses took place primarily during the interrogation stage by military intelligence. Once the detainees were moved to regular prison facilities, the abuses typically stopped, it said.

The report said some abuses were “tantamount to torture,” including brutality, hooding, humiliation and threats of “imminent execution.”

“These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information and other forms of cooperation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an ‘intelligence value.’ ”

The agency alleged that arrests tended to follow a pattern.

“Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property,” the report said.

“Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people,” it said.

“Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles.”

It said some coalition military intelligence officers estimated that “between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake. They also attributed the brutality of some arrests to the lack of proper supervision of battle group units.”

U.S. told over time
Antonella Notari, chief spokeswoman for the Red Cross, would not discuss the full report Monday.

“It is our report,” Notari told The Associated Press. “That’s all I can say.”

But Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the Red Cross’ director of operations, said Friday that the report was given to U.S. officials in February. He said it only summarized what the agency had been telling U.S. officials in detail from March to November 2003 “either in direct face-to-face conversations or in written interventions.”