Daily life at Abu Ghraib: Filthy conditions, sexual misbehavior, bug-infested food, prisoner beatings and humiliations
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Daily life at Abu Ghraib: Filthy conditions, sexual misbehavior, bug-infested food, prisoner beatings and humiliations

US News/July 9, 2004

U.S. News obtains all classified annexes to the Taguba report on Abu Ghraib

"My first reaction was, 'Wow, there [are] a lot of nude people here'... I, myself, have never been in a prison... So I had no experience at all as far as a warden or that type of thing."

Army Captain Donald J. Reese, a reservist and salesman in civilian life, installed in October 2003 as warden of the hard site at Abu Ghraib

The most comprehensive view yet of what went wrong at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, based on a review of all 106 classified annexes to the report of Major General Antonio Taguba, shows abuses were facilitated--and likely encouraged--by a chaotic and dangerous environment made worse by constant pressure from Washington to squeeze intelligence from detainees.

Daily life at Abu Ghraib, the documents show, included riots, prisoner escapes, shootings, corrupt Iraqi guards, filthy conditions, sexual misbehavior, bug-infested food, prisoner beatings and humiliations, and almost-daily mortar shellings from Iraqi insurgents. Troubles inside the prison were made worse still by a military command structure that was hopelessly broken.

Taguba focused mostly on the MPs assigned to guard inmates at Abu Ghraib, but the 5,000 pages of classified files in the annexes to his report show that military intelligence officers-?-dispatched to Abu Ghraib by the top commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez-?-were intimately involved in some of the interrogation tactics widely viewed as abusive.

Col. Henry Nelson, an Air Force psychiatrist who prepared a report for Taguba on Abu Ghraib, described it as a "new psychological battlefield," and detailed the nature of the challenge faced by the Americans working in the overcrowded prison. "These detainees are male and female, young and old," Nelson wrote; "they may be innocent, may have high intelligence value, or may be terrorists or criminals. No matter who they are, if they are at Abu Ghraib, they are remanded in deplorable, dangerous living conditions, as are soldiers."

The documents provide new insights, as well as additional compelling details on how Abu Ghraib was spiraling out of control, and how top military commanders battled behind closed doors. General Sanchez and Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, a reservist who commanded the 800th MP Brigade, did not see eye-to-eye. Her brigade was given the assignment to run the prison, but last November Sanchez put military intelligence in charge of the facility.

In her secret testimony, Karpinski, who was criticized for leadership failures in the Taguba report, said Sanchez refused to provide her with the necessary resources to run Abu Ghraib and other prisons. She said that he didn?t "give a flip" about soldiers, and she added this biting criticism: "I think that his ego will not allow him to accept a Reserve Brigade, a Reserve General Officer and certainly not a female succeeding in a combat environment. And I think he looked at the 800th Brigade as the opportunity to find a scapegoat..."

As the top commanders battled it out, soldiers at Abu Ghraib were confused over who was in charge, the documents show. Weak leadership in the prison meant soldiers couldn?t accomplish basic tasks, like feed their detainees, much less find someone to prosecute abuse. And without a clear chain of authority, some soldiers just ran wild. "One of the tower guards was shooting prisoners with lead balls and slingshot," a company commander testified. Soldiers ran around wearing civilian clothes, and covered latrines with so much graffiti that a commander had them painted black, and then threatened to post a guard at each location. An Army captain allegedly secretly photographed female subordinates while they were showering in outside stalls.

The most serious riot, at Camp Vigilant, took place on the night of November 23 when guards shot and killed four detainees. "The prisoners were marching and yelling, 'Down with Bush,' and 'Bush is bad,'" another Army review said. "They became violent and started throwing rocks at the guards, both in the towers and at the rovers around the wire..." Guards feared for their lives "the sky was black with rocks," the report saidand a mass breakout appeared imminent. The review of the November riot cited the failure of guard commanders to post rules of engagement for dealing with insurrections. Soldiers were hesitant to shoot, and when they did shoot, they often didn?t know whether they were using lethal or non-lethal ammunition because they had mixed the ammo in their shotguns.

Another classified annex reported that the prison complex was seriously overcrowded, with detainees often held for months without ever being interrogated. Detainees walked around in knee-deep mud, "defecating and urinating all over the compounds," said Capt. James Jones, commander of the 229th MP Battalion. "I don?t know how there?s not rioting every day," he testified.

Among the more shocking exchanges revealed in the Taguba classified annexes are a series of E-mails sent by Major David Dinenna of the 320th MP Battalion. The E-mails, sent in October and November to Major William Green of the 800th MP Brigade, and copied to the higher chain of command, show a quixotic attempt to simply get the detainees at Abu Graib edible food. Dinenna pressed repeatedly for food that wouldn?t make prisoners vomit. He criticized the private food contractor for shorting the facility on hundreds of meals a day, and for providing food containing bugs, rats, and dirt.

"As each day goes by tension within the prison population increases," Dinenna wrote. "...Simple fixes, food, would help tremendously." Instead of getting help, Major Green scolded him. "Who is making the charges that there is dirt, bugs or what ever in the food?," Major Green replied in an E-mail. "If it is the prisoners I would take it with a grain of salt." Dinenna shot back: "Our MPs, Medics and field surgeon can easily identify bugs, rats, and dirt, and they did." Ultimately, the food contract was not renewed, an Army spokeswoman says, although the contractor holds other contracts with the military.

Some officers told Taguba?s staff that they believed the Abu Ghraib mess had its roots in an earlier case at the Camp Bucca detention center in southern Iraq last summer. The Army developed evidence that MPs viciously attacked prisoners there, including one who had his face smashed in. Four soldiers were given less than honorable discharges, but were not prosecuted. Said one major who worked at Abu Ghraib: "I?m convinced that what happened [at Abu Ghraib] would never have happened if" the Camp Bucca case had been prosecuted.

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