U.S. Army officials in Iraq tried to curtail Red Cross spot inspections at Abu Ghraib prison late last year after a report by the aid group detailing prisoner abuse was presented to military headquarters in Baghdad, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
After the International Committee of the Red Cross presented its report complaining of prisoner abuse in one cellblock in November based on two surprise inspections, the U.S. military told ICRC inspectors they should make appointments before visiting the cellblock, the Times said in the report, citing a senior Army officer.
That cellblock was the site of the worst abuse, the Times said. The Red Cross inspectors witnessed or heard about such practices as holding prisoners naked in dark concrete cells for days and forcing them to wear women’s underwear on their heads while being paraded and photographed.
The November Red Cross report is the earliest known formal evidence given to military officials in Baghdad before criminal investigators were given pictures in January showing the abuse.
The senior Army officer told the Times the military did not start a criminal investigation before its reply to the Red Cross on Dec. 24. Until now, the Army has described its response to the Red Cross on Dec. 24 as evidence that it was prompt in confronting the its report of prisoner abuse, the newspaper said.
A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the report.
The United States has been shocked by the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by its soldiers and a parade of senior Defense Department officials have been summoned to testify before Congressional committees trying to determine whether the treatment was sanctioned from high up in the chain of command.
The Senate Armed Services Committee is due to hear testimony on Wednesday from Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, and Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq.
Other officials, including the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, and Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith, may also be called to testify.
The Pentagon has strongly disputed a report in the New Yorker magazine this week that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners grew out of a secret plan approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to toughen interrogation methods to fight the growing insurgency in Iraq.