Grueling duties in prison, rounds of golf on its roof


American interrogators in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison spend grueling hours of "booth time" grilling detainees - some of them Syrian, Moroccan or Jordanian - for intelligence clues to help protect against escalating assaults on U.S. troops.

Then, on occasion, they adjourn to the roof for a round of golf.

"I got to take the rest of the day off after our long booth time," Joe Ryan, an ex-Green Beret now working in Iraq as an interrogator on an Army contract, wrote in an online Web log last month. "This gave us a nice evening after dinner to head to the roof and play a round of golf."

Amid the flood of news about prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, Ryan's diary offers a glimpse of both the work of civilian contract interrogators in Iraq and their incongruous attempts to stay comfortable and to amuse themselves. It sheds little light on the treatment of prisoners but does make clear that the growing bloodshed outside put intense pressure on intelligence officers in the prison.

Ryan describes sandstorms that blot out the sun, the bane of flies and "camel spiders," and mortar rounds that hit the prison while he is in the shower. He tells of making a run to Baghdad International Airport past burning fuel tankers hit by insurgent fire and returning with a bag of Whoppers to treat his co-workers. He seems to believe strongly in the cause of the Iraq war but admits that Americans get a skeptical welcome: "We are an 'occupying force' in the eyes of the Iraqi people and you cannot tell them otherwise."

An employee of the Virginia-based defense and intelligence contractor CACI International, Ryan is one of dozens of contract interrogators working in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, in a role some legal experts believe is inappropriate for civilians not subject to military law and discipline.

Job openings on CACI's Web site yesterday included "interrogator" - two years of law enforcement experience and a top-secret clearance required - as well as other jobs that in an earlier era might have been limited to the CIA: "senior counterintelligence agent" and "senior intelligence analyst." All the jobs are in Baghdad.

Though the Pentagon appears to have begun hiring contract interrogators in the mid-1990s, the practice has greatly expanded during the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

It was hardly noticed by the public until an Army report on the Abu Ghraib abuses strongly criticized one of Ryan's CACI colleagues at the prison, Steven Stefanowicz. The report by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba accuses Stefanowicz of encouraging military police guarding the prisoners to use physical abuse and of lying to investigators.

Stefanowicz could not be located for comment, but a CACI official in a conference call Wednesday described him as "by all accounts doing a damn fine job."

A few weeks before his name would surface in the prison scandal, Stefanowicz was one of the CACI workers who joined Ryan in the rooftop golf.

Three other CACI employees, "Steve Stefanowicz and I all took turns trying to hit balls over the back wall and onto the highway," Ryan wrote in his blog, posted on the Web site of a Minnesota talk radio station on which he has appeared as a guest. "Since the club is a left handed 3 iron, I had an unfair advantage and missed a dump truck by only about ten feet. Not bad since the highway is about 220 yards. We do what we can to make it fun here."

Ryan, who is from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, had called radio station KSTP regularly after the 9/11 attacks and was a guest on a talk show before heading to Iraq early this year, said Ron Rosenbaum, co-host of a morning show. Ryan's e-mails to friends proved so interesting that the station asked permission to post them on the Web.

"I think he was doing the patriot thing to go over and help with what he considered a good cause," Rosenbaum said of Ryan's decision to take the job. According to a biography Ryan provided to the station, he trained in Swahili language and interrogation techniques and served in Army Special Forces in 10 African countries, South Korea and Haiti. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Ryan's diary was taken off the KSTP Web site at Ryan's request after the scandal broke, but two weeks of entries from April remain in the Google search engine's cache, or temporary storage. They describe an intensive effort to glean intelligence from captured Iraqi and foreign fighters, with special emphasis on those who have infiltrated from adjoining countries to fight Americans.

"I was at work until 3:30 in the morning because we got hold of some intelligence to directly support the Marines in Al Fallujah," Ryan wrote last month, referring to the city in the Sunni Triangle where U.S. troops have faced off with militants. "The Marines wanted to hit one of the houses I had reported on, but wanted more information. I went back in on the [detainee] who gave me the initial information and he pinpointed the spot for me on a map."

On another occasion, he writes: "Work is fast and furious, but we are more productive right now than we have been since I have been here. Some intelligence things are really coming together that could shift a few things to our advantage. ... We are making progress on rooting out those foreign fighters as well as those individuals who are helping/hiding them."

Ryan describes at length his questioning of an Iraqi "smuggler extraordinaire": "I have received information regarding the entire network from start to finish on how foreign fighters are coming into Iraq; who is paying for it; how they communicate; how they get their weapons once here; and how they move to their target locations."

A few times Ryan refers to the danger posed by insurgents, brushing it off with bravado: "We received some incoming weapons fire tonight, but since these people shooting at us are not very good at math, they could not figure out that if you shoot up to clear an 18-foot wall, the bullets will not fall inside the compound. The towers fired back and it was all over in about a minute. It was kind of cool to see the red tracers about 100 feet in the air. I guess it was an early 4th of July."

In an e-mail this week to Ethan MacIntosh, a KSTP producer, Ryan said some of those implicated in the prison scandal are victims of "uninformed, incorrect allegations."

"There are some people being dragged through the mud," he wrote, according to MacIntosh, calling his CACI colleagues at Abu Ghraib "a wonderful group of patriots."

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