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Wednesday, December 08, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Civilians told not to report beatings
By Barton Gellman and R. Jeffrey Smith
WASHINGTON One of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's closest advisers learned five months ago of allegations that a clandestine military task force in Iraq was beating detainees, ordering trained DIA debriefers out of the room during questioning, confiscating evidence of the abuse and intimidating the debriefers when they complained.
The June 25 report two months after the Abu Ghraib prison photos were released and five months after American commanders in Iraq first learned of the Abu Ghraib abuse was sent by the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency to Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone.
It is among dozens of documents made public yesterday that allege brutal and sometimes illegal military interrogation methods employed against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
The documents reveal that senior U.S. officials, who claimed they were unaware of the abuse, were repeatedly informed of accusations of abuse through official channels.
In the documents, government witnesses describe the regular use of violence much of it inflicted on prisoners by a top-secret task force devoted to capturing "high-value targets" in Iraq.
There is no record, among the documents made public yesterday or previously, that makes clear whether the abuses separate and apart from the highly publicized incidents at Abu Ghraib have stopped or whether anyone has been held responsible for them.
The Bush administration, which says prisoner abuses are isolated events and the Pentagon's response has been swift, fought vigorously to keep the new documents from public view. The American Civil Liberties Union released 43 of them after compelling the Bush administration to provide them many still heavily censored in a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.
The two-page "Info Memo" of the DIA director, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, is the most significant, because he is the highest-ranking official now known to have complained about prisoner mistreatment. His allegations both for the intensity of the violence described and the specificity of the evidence of attempted coverup are among the most serious levied to date. They are also notable because the agency he runs works closely in the field with the elite Special Operations unit about which he writes.
The Washington Post reported last week that a fact-finding mission for Army generals in December 2003 had warned that the same unit then called Task Force 121, and more recently renamed Task Force 6-26 was beating detainees and using a secret facility to hide its interrogations.
Miller was commandant at Guantánamo until last spring and, at least four government officials have reported, brought the harsh methods in use there to Iraq last spring. The Associated Press reported that Miller left Iraq yesterday for a new assignment in Washington, with responsibility for Army housing and support operations.
Jacoby told Cambone, who reports directly to Rumsfeld or Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, that a supervisor in a secret military unit seized photographic evidence after a civilian DIA intelligence officer watched uniformed task force members "punch [the] prisoner in the face to the point the individual needed medical attention."
That DIA officer, and another who worked with him, reported that prisoners taken in the field arrived at the unit's headquarters with "burn marks on their backs," "bruises" and other signs of violence.
Jacoby wrote that officers of the elite military unit "threatened" the DIA civilians Jacoby did not elaborate and warned them not to discuss what they saw. The military officers told them that their e-mails were being screened and were ordered "not to talk to anyone in the U.S." about the incidents. They "instructed them not to leave the compound ... even to get a haircut."
That June 25 memo doesn't specify when the incidents took place, but it suggests that they occurred shortly before the memo was written.
Air Force Lt. Col. John Skinner, a Pentagon spokesman, said "there have been more than 50,000 detainees and only around 300 or so allegations of abuse," many of which "turn out to be unsubstantiated once investigated." He added that one "incident of abuse is one too many" and that the department is committed to a "transparent investigation" of all allegations. He declined to answer questions on any specific allegation or say why the government tried to suppress the documents released yesterday.
The documents describe FBI agents as witnessing the harsh treatment of prisoners at military prisons in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay without making direct attempts to stop it. Some complained to their superiors, and others said they deliberately absented themselves from abusive interrogations. The documents provide no indication whether these protests provoked any intervention by agency officials in Washington.
Some information about Jacoby's memo was provided by Knight Ridder News Service.
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