WASHINGTON - Army investigators told Congress yesterday that a far greater number of Iraqi detainees at Baghdad's infamous Abu Ghraib prison - ranging from two dozen to as many as 100 - were hidden from the International Red Cross at the behest of the CIA, and the spy agency refused repeated requests to cooperate with their probe.
Before yesterday, Army investigators had said they could identify eight so-called "ghost detainees," who were not registered as required by Army regulations and international law. Both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee were sharply critical of the CIA and vowed to further investigate the matter.
The unregistered detainee issue "is perhaps one of the more troubling pieces of our investigation," Army Gen. Paul J. Kern told the committee, noting that the lack of documentation and cooperation from the CIA made the scope of the problem hard to determine.
"But we believe that the number is in the dozens to perhaps up to 100," said Kern, the commander of the Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., who oversaw the probe into the role of military intelligence in the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib. Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the No. 2 officer at Army intelligence, assisted him. Fay told the committee he doubted the figure was that high. "I think it's in the area of two dozen or so - maybe more," he said.
Under the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of captured combatants, the International Red Cross is authorized to have access to all prisons and detainees to monitor their treatment. The conventions do not say the Red Cross must have immediate access, but rather the ability to visit prisoners as soon as possible.
Fay said that CIA officials in both Baghdad and Washington declined his repeated requests for information needed for the probe, which began in the spring and was completed last month.
"We were not able to get documentation from the Central Intelligence Agency," he said. "I eventually made an appointment with the inspector general of the CIA ... and at that point I was informed that CIA was doing its own investigation and they said that they would not provide me with the information that I requested."
Kern, an officer senior to Fay, then approached the agency and was given a similar response during a meeting with both the CIA's inspector general and its general counsel, he said.
CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield would not explain why the agency did not cooperate with the Army generals. He did say, "The CIA's inspector general has been conducting a comprehensive review of detention policies" in Iraq and the review includes detainees "whose registration was delayed." Mansfield said the review began in May and is continuing. "We are determined to examine thoroughly any allegations of abuse," he said.
Kern said he has asked the Pentagon's inspector general to look into the issue of unregistered detainees. And the general said the CIA "provided us a document" saying the agency's "current policy" is to abide by Army regulations should it bring a detainee to an Army facility.
There was no indication during yesterday's hearing about the fate of any of the unregistered detainees, although hundreds of prisoners have been released from Abu Ghraib since the scandal broke in April. The facility at one time held several thousand persons.
Amanda Williamson, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Washington, had no immediate comment on yesterday's testimony.
But Democrats and Republicans on the Senate panel were highly critical of the CIA and vowed to pursue the matter.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, said, "It's totally unacceptable that documents that are requested from the CIA have not been forthcoming." Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said, "The situation with the CIA ghost soldiers is beginning to look like a bad movie ... .This needs to be cleared up rather badly."
Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and the committee chairman, said he would probe the detainee issue "and may well have our own independent hearing on this important subject."
Kern explained that the top American military intelligence officer in Iraq, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, was asked by the CIA if it could bring its prisoners to Abu Ghraib and she agreed.
"Her expectations, though, were that the agency would abide by our rules in our facilities, not create another set," he said.
Army military intelligence officials and military police at the prison then failed to register some detainees and moved them around the prison to avoid Red Cross inspectors at the CIA's request, Kern said. He noted that both the military intelligence brigade commander at the prison, Col. Thomas Pappas, and the head of the interrogation center, Lt. Col. Steven Jordan, have been criticized in the report for allowing that to happen.
The issue first came to light in the spring, shortly after the abuse scandal became public. The first Army probe, headed by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, said that between six and eight of the prisoners whom he said guards called "ghost detainees" were moved around Abu Ghraib. "This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine and in violation of international law," he said.
In June, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged that he had authorized the U.S. military to hide an Iraqi detainee last fall from the International Red Cross and other organizations that monitor treatment of prisoners. However, the prisoner was not held at Abu Ghraib but at Camp Cropper, a detention facility near the Baghdad Airport.
Rumsfeld said at the time that then-CIA Director George J. Tenet asked him in a letter to take custody of an Iraqi national believed to be a high-ranking member of Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish terrorist group suspected of having links to the al-Qaida network, and to keep him off the prison rolls.
The prisoner was treated humanely, Rumsfeld added, and "we are now in the process of registering" the man with the Red Cross.
Asked why the CIA might want to hold a prisoner incommunicado, Rumsfeld told reporters: "The only reason for delay [in registering] ... that I can think of would be that your interest is in not interrupting an interrogation process of some kind, by having the [Red Cross] gain access. But I'm not an expert."
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