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Saturday, May 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Much of abuse shown occurred on single day
By Matt Kelley
WASHINGTON Many of the worst abuses that have come to light from the Abu Ghraib prison happened on a single November day amid a flare of insurgent violence in Iraq, the deaths of many U.S. soldiers and a breakdown of the American guards' command structure.
Nov. 8 was the day U.S. guards took most of the infamous photographs: soldiers mugging in front of a pile of naked, hooded Iraqis, prisoners forced to perform or simulate sex acts, a hooded prisoner in a scarecrow-like pose with wires attached to him.
It was unclear yesterday whether most or all of the new pictures and video published by The Washington Post depicted events on Nov. 8. At least one photo, showing Spc. Charles Graner Jr. with his arm cocked as if to punch a prisoner, is described in military court documents as having been taken that day.
When Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits tearfully pleaded guilty Wednesday to abusing prisoners, he described fellow soldiers committing an escalating series of abuses on eight prisoners that included stomping on their toes and fingers and punching one man hard enough to knock him out.
Sivits is likely to testify about the events of Nov. 8 at courts-martial for other soldiers charged with abuse. Three of them declined to enter pleas at hearings Wednesday: Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick II and Graner.
The abuse came during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and reflection. The abused Iraqis, Sivits said, had been suspected of taking part in a prison riot that day. They were held at Abu Ghraib on suspicion of common crimes, not attacks on U.S. forces, said Col. Marc Warren, the top legal adviser to Iraqi commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
The day of abuse capped what had been the worst week for U.S. troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Nearly three dozen had been killed in a surge of attacks that left some other soldiers frustrated and frightened. Insurgents had attacked the Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. bases in the area with mortars several times in previous weeks.
The day before, insurgents had downed a Black Hawk helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, killing six. Sixteen soldiers had died five days earlier when a shoulder-fired missile destroyed a Chinook transport helicopter near the flashpoint city of Fallujah.
The International Red Cross temporarily pulled out of Iraq on Nov. 8 because of the violence, which also had included a deadly car bomb outside the aid group's Baghdad headquarters on Oct. 27.
The pressure was on to get information from prisoners to help stop the attacks.
"We've been working very hard to increase our intelligence capacity here," Sanchez told reporters in Iraq on Nov. 11. "We are not where we want to be yet."
Several accused soldiers have told investigators that military and civilian intelligence officers asked them to scare and humiliate the prisoners before they were questioned.
"The orders came directly from the intelligence community, to soften up the detainees so that intelligence information could be gathered to save the lives of soldiers in the field," said Paul Bergrin, a lawyer for Davis.
Sanchez told a Senate panel Wednesday that he never approved any tactics harsher than keeping prisoners in isolation.
Two days after the Nov. 8 spasm of abuse, the general in charge of the MPs gave written reprimands to two of the unit's leaders for failing to correct security lapses at Abu Ghraib. Taguba recommended further disciplinary action against the two officers Lt. Col. Jerry Phillabaum and Maj. David DiNenna. It is unclear if that has happened; they have not been criminally charged.
In other developments:
Pentagon officials revealed yesterday that the Army has investigated the deaths of at least 37 prisoners held by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nine are still being investigated as possible homicides, eight by the military and at least one by the Justice Department because it apparently involved only CIA personnel. In a 10th case, a soldier was punished and dismissed from the Army for excessive force after shooting to death an Iraqi who was throwing rocks at him. The rest are attributed to natural causes or considered justifiable homicides.
Officials said they had closed a sexual-assault case involving three soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in October. The three soldiers received administrative punishment, which likely resulted in reduction and rank and forfeiture of pay, for kissing and fondling a female detainee, a military official said.
The U.S. military yesterday released 454 detainees from Abu Ghraib. Some of those freed told stories of beatings and psychological abuse.
Another 394 prisoners are scheduled to be released Friday, U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.
At least six buses, accompanied by U.S. troops, took the detainees to Tikrit and Baqouba, north of Baghdad. Some were also returned to Ramadi and Baghdad.
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