NY Times: Beating Iraqi Prisoners Was Routine


Richard Moore


September 24, 2005 
3 in 82nd Airborne Say Beating Iraqi Prisoners Was Routine 

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 - Three former members of the Army's 82nd
Airborne Division say soldiers in their battalion in Iraq
routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help
gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.

The new allegations, the first involving members of the elite
82nd Airborne, are contained in a report by Human Rights
Watch. The 30-page report does not identify the troops, but
one is Capt. Ian Fishback, who has presented some of his
allegations in letters this month to top aides of two senior
Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W.
Warner of Virginia , the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona
. Captain Fishback approached the Senators' offices only after
he tried to report the allegations to his superiors for 17
months, the aides said. The aides also said they found the
captain's accusations credible enough to warrant

An Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said Friday that Captain
Fishback's allegations first came to the Army's attention
earlier this month, and that the Army had opened a criminal
investigation into the matter,  focusing on the division's
First Brigade, 504th Parachute Infantry. The Army has begun
speaking with Captain Fishback, and is seeking the names of
the two other soldiers.

In separate statements to the human rights organization,
Captain Fishback and two sergeants  described systematic
abuses of Iraqi prisoners, including beatings, exposure to
extremes of hot and cold, stacking in human pyramids and sleep
deprivation at Camp Mercury, a forward operating base near
Falluja. Falluja was the site of the major uprising against
the American-led occupation in April 2004. The report
describes the soldiers' positions in the unit, but not their

The abuses reportedly took place between September 2003 and
April 2004, before and during the investigations into the
notorious misconduct at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
Senior Pentagon officials initially sought to characterize the
scandal there as the work of a rogue group of military police
soldiers on the prison's night shift. Since then, the Army has
opened more than 400 inquiries into detainee abuse in Iraq and
Afghanistan , and punished 230 enlisted soldiers and officers.

The trial of a soldier charged in an  investigation into Abu
Ghraib, Pfc. Lynndie R. England, continued Friday in Fort
Hood, Tex. [Page A16.]

In the newest case, the human rights organization interviewed
three soldiers: one sergeant who said he was a guard and
acknowledged abusing some prisoners at the direction of
military intelligence personnel; another sergeant who was an
infantry squad leader who said he had witnessed some
detainees' being beaten; and the captain who said he had seen
several interrogations and received regular reports from
noncommissioned officers on the ill treatment of detainees.

In one incident, the Human Rights Watch report states, an
off-duty cook  broke a detainee's leg with a metal baseball
bat. Detainees were also stacked, fully clothed, in human
pyramids and forced to hold five-gallon water jugs with  arms
outstretched or do jumping jacks until they passed out, the
report says.  "We would give them blows to the head, chest,
legs and stomach, and pull them down, kick dirt on them," one
sergeant told Human Rights Watch researchers during one of
four interviews in July and August. "This happened every day."

The sergeant continued: "Some days we would just get bored, so
we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get
in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We
did it for amusement."

He said he had acted under orders from military intelligence
personnel to soften up detainees, whom the unit called persons
under control, or PUC's, to make them more cooperative during
formal interviews.

"They wanted intel," said the sergeant, an infantry fire-team
leader who served as a guard when no military police soldiers
were available. "As long as no PUC's came up dead, it
happened." He added, "We kept it to broken arms and legs."

The soldiers told Human Rights Watch that while they were
serving in Afghanistan, they learned the stress techniques
from watching Central Intelligence Agency operatives
interrogating prisoners.

Captain Fishback, who has served combat tours in Afghanistan
and Iraq, gave Human Rights Watch and Senate aides his long
account only after his efforts to report the abuses to his
superiors were rebuffed or ignored over 17 months, according
to Senate aides and John Sifton, one of the Human Rights Watch
researchers who conducted the interviews. Moreover, Captain
Fishback has expressed frustration at his civilian and
military leaders for not providing clear guidelines for the
proper treatment of prisoners.

In a Sept. 16 letter to the senators, Captain Fishback, wrote,
"Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear,
consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes
lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that
this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including
death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to
elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking,
stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment."

Reached by telephone Friday night, Captain Fishback, who is
currently in Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, N.C.,
referred all questions to an Army spokesman, adding only that,
"I have a duty as an officer to do this through certain
channels, and I've attempted to do that."

The two sergeants, both of whom served in Afghanistan and
Iraq, gave statements to the human rights organization out of
"regret" for what they had done themselves at the direction of
military intelligence personnel or witnessed but did not
report, Mr. Sifton said. They asked not to be identified, he
said, out of fear they could be prosecuted for their actions.
They did not contact Senate staff members, aides said.

One of the sergeants has left the Army, while the other is no
longer with the 82nd, Mr. Sifton said. Both  declined to talk
to reporters, he said.

A spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne, Maj. Amy Hannah, said the
division's inspector general was working closely with Army
officials in Washington to investigate the matter, including
the captain's assertion that he tried to alert his chain of
command months ago.

John Ullyot, a spokesman for Senator Warner, said  Captain
Fishback had spoken by telephone with a senior committee aide
in the last 10 days, and that his allegations were deemed
credible enough that the  aide recommended he report them to
his new unit's inspector general.

While they also witnessed some abuses at another forward  base
near the Iraqi border with Syria , the three  said most of the
misconduct they witnessed took place at Camp Mercury, where
prisoners captured on the battlefield or in raids were held
for up to 72 hours before being released or transferred to Abu

Interrogators pressed guards to beat up prisoners, and one
sergeant recalled watching a particular interrogator who was a
former Special Forces soldier beating the detainee himself.
"He would always say to us, 'You didn't see anything, right?'
" the sergeant said. "And we would always say, 'No, sergeant.'

One of the sergeants told Human Rights Watch that he had seen
a soldier break open a chemical light stick and beat the
detainees with it. "That made them glow in the dark, which was
real funny, but it burned their eyes, and their skin was
irritated real bad," he said.

A second sergeant, identified as an infantry squad leader and
interviewed twice in August by Human Rights Watch, said, "As
far as abuse goes, I saw hard hitting." He also said he had
witnessed how guards would force the detainees "to physically
exert themselves to the limit."

Some soldiers beat prisoners to vent their frustrations, one
sergeant said, recalling an instance when an off-duty cook
showed up at the detention area and ordered a prisoner to grab
a metal pole and bend over. "He told him to bend over and
broke the guy's leg with a mini-Louisville Slugger that was a
metal bat."

Even after the Abu Ghraib scandal became public, one of the
sergeants said, the abuses continued. "We still did it, but we
were careful," he told the human rights group.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company 

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland
blog: http://harmonization.blogspot.com/

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