A series of photographs obtained exclusively by NBC News depicts what sources said was the aggressive interrogation of three naked Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the detention facility outside Baghdad that is at the center of the scandal over U.S. mistreatment of Iraqi detainees.
In one of the photos, a U.S. soldier can be seen pressing his knee into the neck of one of the three prisoners, who have been forced to huddle together on the floor.
Sources told NBC News that some of the men in the photos were U.S. military intelligence officers who appeared to be directing the interrogation. One of the men identified as a military intelligence officer appears to have thrown an unidentified object at the prisoners.
The involvement of military intelligence officers in encouraging abuse of detainees has emerged as a central question in the scandal at Abu Ghraib. Military police are responsible for guarding prisoners but are not supposed to be involved in interrogations.
But a report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who led the Army’s investigation of the abuses at Abu Ghraib, quoted the testimony of a sergeant at the prison who said military intelligence officers lobbied guards to abuse detainees to “loosen them up” for interrogation.
Seven soldiers have been court-martialed in the scandal, one of whom has pleaded guilty. The facility’s commander, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, could face administrative action or criminal charges and has been suspended from command.
Standard operating procedure?
It was not clear to what extent the new photographs, which were provided to NBC News on condition that their source not be revealed, showed standard procedures at Abu Ghraib.
NBC News’ Robert Windrem reported from New York that the prisoners were being interrogated in connection with the shooting of a military police sergeant by a detainee, not as part of an intelligence interview.
That could suggest that the interrogation session was not representative of normal tactics used at the prison, where hundreds of photographs and video clips have depicted U.S. guards abusing and sexually humiliating Iraqi prisoners.
Taguba’s report blamed, in part, a confused chain of command after Nov. 19, when the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade was given responsibility for Abu Ghraib and authority over the 800th Military Police Brigade. He reiterated that guards should play no role in the interrogation of prisoners.
Members of Congress from both parties complained Wednesday that while an expanded report by Taguba was delivered as promised, as many as 2,000 pages considered vital to the investigation were missing.
Congressional sources told NBC News that the missing documents included a written report from Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller that apparently lays out aggressive interrogation tactics for Abu Ghraib. Miller was recently reassigned to Iraq after spending 17 months as commander of operations at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Also missing was key testimony from Col. Thomas Pappas, the commander of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, the sources said.
Lawrence Di Rita, a spokesman for the Defense Department, characterized the missing documents Wednesday as insignificant, saying the information was “available otherwise.”
Abuse could be widespread
Former Vice President Al Gore, meanwhile, demanded Wednesday that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials resign for encouraging policies that led to the abuse, which could be more widespread than previously known.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that an Army synopsis of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan showed a pattern of abuse involving more military units.
The summary, dated May 5, was prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command at the request of Army officials, according to the newspaper. It outlines the status of investigations into 36 cases, including the continuing probe at Abu Ghraib, the paper said.
The Iraq cases date to April 2003, the Times reported. In an incident reported to have taken place last month, a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on “blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia,” the paper said.
One of the oldest cases listed in the May 5 document involves the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan in December 2002, the paper said.
The document said enlisted personnel from a military intelligence unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., and an Army reserve military police unit from Ohio were thought to have been “involved at various times in assaulting and mistreating the detainee,” according to the Times.
Members of the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, which is part of the California National Guard, were accused of abusing Iraqi detainees last spring in Samarra, north of Baghdad, the Times reported.
The Army summary said the unidentified enlisted personnel “forced into asphyxiations numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information” over a 10-week period, according to the paper.