I pulled the guy out [an E6 interrogator, and said]: I lookedI looked this stuff up and this is not the way its supposed to be, you know? He was like, This is the directive we had. You need to go ahead and drop this, sergeant. You know, and he outranked me. Drop this sergeant, [he said]. It was repeatedly emphasized to me that this was not a wise course of action to pursue . . . It was blown off, but it was a little more stern: You dont want to take this inquiry anywhere else, kind of thing. You should definitely drop this; this is not something you wanna do to yourself.
I was very annoyed with them because they were saying things like we didnt have to abide by the Geneva Conventions, because these people werent POWs. . . . [T]heyre enemy combatants, theyre not POWs, and so we can do all this stuff to them and so forth. . . . It just went against everything we learned at Huachuca.
U.S. forces have now been deployed in Iraq for over three years. During this time, tens of thousands of Iraqis have been arrested, detained, and interrogated by U.S. personnel. Many of the detaineesheld at Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) or at central detention centers such as Abu Ghraib prison, Camp Cropper, and Camp Buccahave been interrogated by personnel from U.S. Military Intelligence (MI) or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). While some detainees have been insurgents, others have been innocent civilians caught up in U.S. military operations, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There is mounting evidence to show that many detainees have been abused. The Abu Ghraib scandal, which broke in April 2004, brought the issue of detainee abuse to the worlds attention, but it is now clear that the scope of the problem is far broader than was known at the time. Since 2003, Human Rights Watch has reviewed hundreds of credible allegations of serious mistreatment and torture of detainees in U.S. custody. Alleged abuses have taken place in locations all over Iraq, in both FOBs and centralized facilities, and have involved CIA agents, military interrogators, MP guards, and ordinary combat soldiers. Abuses have also been alleged in detention facilities in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, where smaller numbers of detainees are held. In many cases, it has taken years for abuses to come to light.
This report is based largely on firsthand accounts by U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq, and describes abuses that took place in three separate locations in Iraq in 2003-2005. Many of the accounts are from soldiers who witnessed and in some cases participated in the abuses. First, the report discusses incidents involving a special military and CIA task force based at Camp Nama, near Baghdad, in 2003-2004, and near Balad in 2004-2005. Second, the report describes abuses in 2003-2004 at a Forward Operating Base on the Syrian border, called FOB Tiger. Third, the report details abuses in 2004 at detention facilities at the Mosul airport. The militarys own investigations and reports by journalists and other observers support many of the accounts, and provide further details from soldiers about abuses at these facilities, including abuses in 2005.
In all three locations, soldiers witnessed seriously abusive treatment and interrogation of detainees, including beatings, psychological torture of varying kinds, and other physical torture and mistreatment. At Camp Nama, for instance, detainees were regularly stripped naked, subjected to sleep deprivation and extreme cold, placed in painful stress positions, and beaten. At FOB Tiger, they were held without food or water for over 24 hours at a time, in temperatures sometimes exceeding 135 degrees Fahrenheit, and then taken into interrogations where they were beaten and subjected to threats. At Mosul, detainees were regularly subject to extreme sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold, forced exercises, and were threatened with military guard dogs.
In all three locations, the abuses appear to have been part of a regularized process of detainee abusestandard operating procedure, in the words of some of the soldiers.
The accounts in this report provide compelling new evidence that detainee abuse was an established and apparently authorized part of the detention and interrogation processes in Iraq for much of 2003-2005. The accounts also suggest that U.S. military personnel who felt the practices were wrong and illegal have faced significant obstacles at every turn when they attempted to report or expose the abuses.
One military interrogator, cited at the beginning of this report, described to Human Rights Watch what happened when he and other colleagues complained about abuses to the colonel on duty: a team of two JAG officers, JAG lawyers, came and gave us a couple hours slide show on why this is necessary, why this is legal, theyre enemy combatants, theyre not POWs, and so we can do all this stuff to them and so forth. After that presentation, the interrogator said, the abuses continued, but he and the others who were unhappy with the situation felt that they had nowhere else to turn. As far as he knew, no other reporting mechanism existed. That was it, case closed, he explained. There was nobody else to talk to.
Many of the soldiers who have spoken with Human Rights Watch about detainee abuse have voiced anger at the way their concerns and complaints were dismissed, and said that they decided to speak publicly because they were concerned about the systemic problems that made reporting abuse so difficult.
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The military and the Bush Administration appear to be in denial. Both have consistently portrayed abuse cases from Iraq as exceptional and perpetrators as lone and independent actorsrotten applesdespite evidence that Military Intelligence officers and higher-echelon military and civilian leaders knew about or may even have authorized abusive techniques that were used against detainees. Such sweeping denials, and the militarys general failure to place any blame on leadership for abuses that occurred, have hindered candid assessments about the detainee abuse problem.
Take, for example, the role of U.S. Military Intelligence (MI) in formulating and executing interrogation and detention policy in Iraq. There are clear indications that MI battalions systematized the use of abusive techniques in Iraq in 2003 and 2004, and that MI interrogatorsincluding officersare implicated in the widespread abuses that occurred during that time. As detailed in this report, internal military documents and soldiers own accounts show that MI interrogators were using abusive tactics through much of 2003-2005; and that for much of this time these tactics were authorized by officers up the chain of command. Yet to date, no military intelligence officers who have served in Iraq have been charged with any criminal acts, either as a principal or under the doctrine of command responsibility. The few courts-martial that have occurred in relation to detainee abuse in Iraq have primarily involved military police, most of whom have claimed in courts-martial that they were ordered or authorized by military intelligence interrogators to use the tactics they were charged with.
Notably, Gen. Barbara Fast, the chief of military intelligence in Iraq during the period of the most serious abuseslate 2003 through 2004has since been promoted for her work in Iraq. She is now the commander of the Army Intelligence Center, the U.S. Armys interrogation school at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
CIA personnel have also gone unpunished. Several homicide cases, involving detainees who died while being interrogated by the CIA, were referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution in 2004 and 2005, yet to date not one CIA agent has been charged. Human Rights Watch has repeatedly urged Justice Department officials to move forward with the investigation and prosecution of civilian personnel implicated in abuses, but as of June 2006 only a single civilian contractor had been indicted, for a case from Afghanistan. And there are others who have escaped investigation as wellfor instance, military Judge Advocate Generals, Special Forces personnel, and civilian leadership in the Department of Defense.
Human Rights Watch is aware that U.S. forces in Iraq are fighting armed groups who themselves have shown little willingness to abide by international humanitarian law. As Human Rights Watch has detailed in previous reports, Iraqi insurgent groups routinely violate international humanitarian law, carrying out abductions and attacks against civilians and humanitarian aid workers, and detonating hundreds of bombs in bazaars, mosques, and other civilian areas. Human Rights Watch has previously stated that those responsible for violations, including the leaders of these groups, should, if captured, be investigated and prosecuted for violations of Iraqi law and the laws of war.
But the activities of these groups are no excuse for U.S. violations. Abuses by one party to a conflict, no matter how egregious, do not justify violations by the other side. This is a fundamental principle of international humanitarian law.
The U.S. government has refused to acknowledge the systemic nature of the problem of detainee abuse in Iraq since 2003, and done little to address the underlying problems that have led to abuse.
It is time for the Bush Administration to admit that there has been no real accountability for detainee abuses. It is time for military and CIA leaders to acknowledge that serious and systemic abuse has occurred, and recognize the weakness of their internal reporting procedures. It is time for the U.S. Congress to get serious about oversight on these issues, and work to ensure that systemic flaws are corrected and that criminal conduct is adequately investigated and punished, both now and in the future.
Human Rights Watch makes the following recommendations: