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Army report finds worse POW abuse

Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON - As new details emerged yesterday about allegations that reservists based in Western Maryland had tortured Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, the Army expanded its investigation into the "manner of interrogation" employed by military intelligence units and civilian contractors, a senior military official said.

New Yorker writer Seymour M. Hersh published details on the magazine's Web site yesterday from a 53-page report on the conduct of soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba that accused the soldiers of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at Abu Ghraib between October and December last year.

Six soldiers attached to the unit, based in Cresaptown near Cumberland, are facing criminal charges and possible courts-martial, and eight more have been accused of administrative violations.

Taguba's report, which was written in February and led to the charges being filed against 16 soldiers and one military contractor, accuses the troops of "breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee."

The Taguba report, as quoted by Hersh, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, also contains details of how a civilian contractor played a key role in interrogating prisoners, all but unprecedented in military annals.

Steven Stephanowicz, identified as an employee of CACI International, a publicly held company based in Arlington that boasts of its expertise in combating terrorism, is accused by Taguba of allowing or ordering military policemen "who were not trained in interrogation techniques to facilitate interrogations by 'setting conditions' which were neither authorized" by nor comported with Army regulations.

"He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse," the Taguba report said.

Hersh's article will appear in the magazine's May 10 issue.

Repeated telephone calls to Jody Brown, CACI's senior vice president for public relations, went unanswered. On Friday, the company, which has 7,600 employees worldwide and 2003 revenues of $843 million, issued a statement that said it had "no indication from the Army that any CACI employee was involved in any alleged improper conduct with Iraqi prisoners," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Civilian role unusual

Robert Baer, a former CIA officer with extensive experience in the Middle East, said "it's very unusual" to use civilian contractors for translations or interrogations. But he said even the CIA is short-handed with translators and interrogators. "There's nobody to send," he said.

At the same time, Baer said that the allegations that civilians encouraged the mistreatment of prisoners shows the civilians were ill-trained for any interrogation work. "Physical coercion doesn't work," he said.

Gary Myers, a former Army lawyer who is representing Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick II, one of the six reservists facing criminal charges, said this created a lawless situation. "You've got civilians in there who don't come under [military law]," he said. "I don't know there's an Iraqi criminal court at the moment. Who do they [contractors] answer to?"

Frederick, who has already been recommended for court-martial, has complained of being made a scapegoat by the Army. He places the blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib with military intelligence officials, contractors and operatives from OGA, or "other government agencies," a euphemism for the CIA.

In a journal he began keeping in January after he came under suspicion for misconduct, Frederick, a Virginia prison guard, accused agents of covering up a killing. Hersh refers to a second fatal incident at the prison and said the corpse was photographed by soldiers: "There is the battered face of prisoner No. 153399."

Investigation expands

The new, broadened investigation of the role played by military intelligence and civilian contractors in the Abu Ghraib abuses has already begun, according to a senior military official in Baghdad. It is being headed by Army Maj. Gen. George Fay, who has a background in military intelligence.

One of the Army military intelligence units operating at Abu Ghraib during the period when Taguba documented the abuses was the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, based in East Windsor, Conn. It had more than 300 soldiers serving in Iraq from March until December, when most returned home.

A military intelligence officer who served in Iraq said soldiers from the 325th were involved in a variety of tasks around the country and were "a small piece" of the operations at Abu Ghraib. "It was probably very unclear to the MPs and maybe to the MI guys what procedures they were to follow," he said. "There was no SOP [standard operating procedure]."

He said troops had to follow the law and "the rules of war" and that "clearly what's on TV is not right," a reference to the pictures first broadcast Wednesday on CBS's 60 Minutes II. They show Maryland soldiers abusing and humiliating naked prisoners. "You got to hope that someone within the chain of command didn't say this is OK."

However, the Taguba report said military intelligence officials directed the Maryland guardsmen to perform a variety of questionable acts, according to Hersh's account. Spc. Sabrina Harman, one of the accused Maryland reservists and a former pizzeria manager, testified "that it was her job to keep detainees awake, including one hooded prisoner who was placed on a box with wires attached to his fingers, toes and penis," Hersh wrote. "She stated, 'MI wanted to get them to talk. It is Graner and Frederick's job to get these people to talk."

Spc. Charles A. Graner is another Maryland reservist facing criminal charges.

Moral questions

Hersh also cites testimony from another reservist who has already been recommended for court-martial, Sgt. Javal S. Davis, a Morgan State graduate. "I witnessed prisoners in the MI hold section ... being made to do various things that I would question morally," Davis is quoted as telling the Army Criminal Investigation Division. "We were told that they had different rules."

Taguba wrote in his report, according to Hersh: "Davis also stated that he had heard MI insinuate to the guards to abuse the inmates. When asked what MI said he stated: 'Loosen this guy up for us.' 'Make sure he has a bad night.' 'Make sure he gets the treatment.'"

Davis is quoted as saying, "The MI staffs to my understanding have been giving Graner compliments ... statements like, 'Good job, they're breaking down real fast.' 'They answer every question.' 'They're giving out good information.'"

Meeting with families

Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, the commanding officer of the Army Reserve, flew in a Blackhawk helicopter from Washington to Cresaptown yesterday to meet with family members of the 372nd. He said that he has requested a formal investigation of the training that reservists get in handling prisoners.

He also said that he has asked the Army's inspector general's office for a report on training covering the treatment of both civilian detainees and enemy POWs.

But he said he believes existing training was adequate to ensure reservists are aware of the need for humane treatment of enemy soldiers.

"These allegations go against everything our Army stands for," Helmly said.

He added that he's concerned about the effect the gruesome photographs of abuse now being broadcast around the world will have on future treatment of American soldiers taken prisoner in Iraq.

Helmly spoke to reporters after meeting privately for three hours with about 100 relatives of military police reservists from the company now serving in Iraq. He said he received only one question about the prisoner mistreatment but dozens on the recent four-month extension of service for the company, shortages of equipment and complaints about dangerous assignments riding shotgun in contractors' trucks.

The 130 members of the 372nd still in Iraq were scheduled to leave in December, and then were extended to May. Now, they're scheduled to return in September, a change of plans forced by worsening violence and personnel shortages.

"We're really upset," Kristie Gallagher of Winchester, Va., the wife of Sgt. Jason Gallagher, said as she ducked outside to give her 16-month-old daughter, Katelynn, a break from the meeting. "Her daddy saw her for just two weeks" before leaving for Iraq, she said, "and he's missing out on a lot. It's really hard to accept."

The much-publicized charges against some company members have cast a shadow over the service of all of them, said Jennifer Bird of Oakland in Garrett County.

She said her husband, Spc. Rodney Bird, worked in the Abu Ghraib prison but told her he did not witness any of the alleged abuse. "It makes the whole unit look bad," she said.

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