Thirty-nine prisoners have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since the fall of 2001 and there have been 94 cases of proven or suspected abuse, the Army said Thursday in a broad new report giving a more precise and higher estimate of the scale of the abuse.
The Army inspector general’s report also gives new details about the alleged abuses, including evidence that troops conspired to make Iraqi prisoners jump off a bridge, that one interrogator hit a prisoner in the head during questioning and that a sergeant told subordinates to “rough up” detainees.
Still, the Army report concludes there were no systemic problems that caused or contributed to the abuses. All of the wrongdoing was committed by soldiers who violated Army rules and regulations, at times aided by commanders who either encouraged abuses or looked the other way, said Inspector General Lt. Gen. Paul Mikolashek.
Senate Democrats, pointing to deficiencies in training and inconsistencies in doctrine outlined in the Army report, immediately challenged that finding.
“It is difficult to believe there were not systemic problems with our detention and interrogation operations,” Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said at a hastily called hearing.
The acting Army secretary and its top general said they took responsibility for the abuses while insisting that they were not sanctioned by Army leadership.
“These actions, while regrettable, are aberrations,” said Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker said mistakes were understandable, though not excusable. Troops must be trained to contain their anger at prisoners who had been trying to kill them, he said.
‘In the middle of a rumble’
“It’s in the middle of a rumble that this is happening,” Schoomaker said.
The prisoner abuse scandal burst into public view this spring, when photographs surfaced showing beatings and humiliations of Iraqis held at the Abu Ghraib prison. Seven Army enlisted soldiers have been charged with abusing detainees at the prison outside Baghdad. One has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to a year in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
Brownlee ordered Mikolashek to review detention practices in February, two months before the pictures appeared, based on internal reports of abuse that had reached the Pentagon.
The Pentagon previously had said it could not provide a definitive number of abuse cases. In May, it said it was looking into 37 possible abuse death cases.
The report added new details about other abuses, including:
- Two chief warrant officers accused in the death of an Iraqi general routinely beat and slapped prisoners they were questioning, fellow soldiers told investigators. Guards who witnessed such abuse didn’t report it and thought it was approved by higher-ups, the report said. The Denver Post has reported the Army plans to file criminal charges against Chief Warrant Officers Lewis Welshofer and Jeff Williams in the suffocation death of Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush.
- A sergeant first class told subordinates to “rough up” two detainees, and two of the subordinates and a sergeant from another unit beat those prisoners. All four faced courts-martial, with the sergeant first class being demoted to staff sergeant, one staff sergeant demoted and sentenced to 30 days in jail, one staff sergeant being demoted and one specialist fined $1,092 and sentenced to 45 days hard labor.
- Troops who forced two detainees to jump off a bridge into Iraq’s Tigris River — killing one man — had discussed the plan as an entire platoon before carrying it out, apparently with the support of the platoon sergeant. Three soldiers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Jan. 3 drowning and another faces charges of pushing the second man, who survived, into the river.
- An interrogator hit a prisoner in the head during questioning. After the International Committee of the Red Cross discovered the incident and complained, the interrogator was punished and the unit’s commander required two soldiers to be present at all future interrogations.
- Civilian interrogators working on an Army contract were accused of mistreating prisoners in two separate incidents, including pouring water on the head of a prisoner forced into an uncomfortable “stress position.” The interrogators’ employer, CACI International Inc., plans to investigate further, spokeswoman Jodi Brown said Thursday. She said that in one incident military interrogators reportedly used the same techniques as the contract workers.
The Army investigators looked at alleged abuse incidents that happened between the start of combat in Afghanistan in October 2001 until June 9.
The soldiers accused in the Abu Ghraib abuse have said they were told or encouraged by military intelligence personnel to soften the prisoners up for questioning by humiliating or beating them.
Mikolashek’s review found that all the interrogation procedures approved in Iraq and Afghanistan were legal, “if executed carefully, by trained soldiers, under the full range of safeguards.”
But interrogator training was often incomplete and inconsistent, the report said.
The Army’s contract with CACI did not require the civilian contractors to have military interrogation training. Eleven of the 31 CACI interrogators who worked in Iraq did not have military interrogation training, the report said.
The 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which was in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib during the abuses there, had no soldiers trained as interrogators, the report found.