WASHINGTON - U.S. special operations forces fed some Iraqi detainees only bread and water for up to 17 days, used unapproved interrogation practices such as sleep deprivation and loud music and stripped at least one prisoner, according to a Pentagon
report on incidents dating to 2003 and 2004.
The report concludes that the detainees' treatment was wrong but not illegal and reflected inadequate resources and lack of oversight and proper guidance rather than deliberate abuse. No military personnel were punished as a result of the investigation.
The findings were included in more than 1,000 pages of documents the Pentagon released to the American Civil Liberties Union
on Friday under a Freedom of Information request. They included two major reports â€” one by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on specials operations forces in Iraq
and one by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby on Afghanistan
While some of the incidents have been reported previously and reviewed by members of Congress, this was the first time the documents were made public. Many portions of the report were blacked out, including specific names and locations such as the identities of the military units involved.
The report comes as the military is grappling with new allegations of war crimes in an increasingly unpopular conflict in Iraq. It could hamper the Bush administration's election-year effort to turn public opinion around with upbeat reports about the progress of the new government in Baghdad.
"Both the Formica and the Jacoby report demonstrate that the government is really not taking the investigation of detainee abuse seriously," said Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney.
Singh called the reports "a whitewash" and questioned why they only focused on a limited number of incidents. In particular, she said there have been numerous documents showing that special operations forces abused detainees, and yet Formica only reviewed a few cases.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros said, "We've undertaken significant steps to investigate, hold people accountable and change our operations as appropriate. This is all part of our effort to be transparent and show that we investigate all allegations thoroughly, and we take them seriously."
Less than a week ago, three detainees committed suicide at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, highlighting anew accusations of abuse. A little more than two years ago, the Abu Ghraib
prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq came to light, with its graphic photographs of detainees being sexually humiliated and threatened with dogs.
The Bush administration has been criticized internationally, including by U.S. allies, for abusive treatment of terror war detainees. Late last year, Congress forced Bush to accept a ban on the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners by U.S. troops.
Administration officials have said the U.S. does not use torture but rather legal interrogation techniques to gain information that could head off terror attacks.
Ordered more than two years ago, the Formica review recommended changes including better training, new standards for detention centers and updated policies for detainee operations. His final report is dated November 2004 but was just released to the ACLU in its unclassified, censored form on Friday.
According to a senior defense official, all eight of Formica's recommendations for changes and improvements in detention policies were implemented shortly after he completed the report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about it.
Formica reviewed three allegations of abuse by special operations forces who held detainees in temporary facilities, often hastily set up near where they were captured.
Formica found that overall conditions "did not comport with the spirit of the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions," which require humane treatment of prisoners.
Formica said, for example, that the forces used five interrogation techniques that were allowed at one point but had been rescinded by then: sleep or food deprivation, yelling and loud music, forcing detainees to remain in stressful physical positions and changing environmental conditions â€” which could include making their locations too hot or too cold.
Formica also found that the nakedness "was unnecessary and inconsistent with the principles of dignity and respect" in the Geneva Conventions. And he said that while one of the prisoners fed just bread and water appeared to be in good condition, 17 days of that diet "is too long."
In his recommendations he said detainees should receive adequate bedding, food, water and holding areas, get systematic medical screenings and a clear record of their detention at every level.
He dismissed other specific allegations of more serious abuse in several earlier cases. He said that the allegations of rape, sodomy and beatings were not substantiated by medical examinations and that the accusers' stories changed over time and were not credible.
Jacoby was dispatched in May 2004 to examine the treatment of detainees at facilities in Afghanistan.
His report found "no systematic or widespread mistreatment of detainees," but concluded that the opportunities for mistreatment and the ever-changing battlefield there demanded changes in procedures.
He said that there was "a consistent lack of knowledge" regarding the capture, processing, detention and interrogation of detainees and that policies varied at facilities across the country. Jacoby also concluded that the lack of clear standards created opportunities for abuse and impeded efforts to gain timely intelligence and that interrogation standards were "inconsistent and unevenly applied."
To date, there have been about 600 investigations into detainee-related incidents of all kinds, including natural deaths and detainee assaults on other detainees, according to Army spokesman Paul Boyce. As a result, he said, 267 soldiers have received some type of punishment, including 85 courts-martial and 95 nonjudicial actions.