U.S. Army documents: Abu Ghraib was tip of iceberg

According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, torture in occupied Iraq has not been confined to Abu Ghraib jail, where abuse and sexual humiliation of inmates caused worldwide outrage last year.

The new revelations concern a facility at Mosul run by the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division. In a memo, the investigating officer said: "There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel … engaged in physical torture." His report in January 2004 said prisoners’ rights under the Geneva Conventions had been violated.

The investigation was triggered by the case of Salah Salih Jassim, 20, who had his jaw broken in detention. He was not a suspect but had been arrested along with his father, an officer in Saddam Hussein’s Fedayeen militia. Jassim was held in a room with 70 other prisoners. Deafening heavy metal music was played and guards sounded bullhorns beside their heads. Jassim said: "All night they were throwing water on us and making us stand and squat. From the night to the next day…they were beating us."

The report said: "The detainees had sandbags over their heads that were marked with different crimes, leading the guards to believe that the particular detainee committed that particular crime." The bag on Jassim’s head was marked "IED" ­ the acronym for the roadside bombs that have killed and maimed hundreds of troops. Soldiers in the room when Jassim’s jaw was broken all said they did not see the incident and the investigation was unable to determine which guards were at fault. None was punished. (AP, March 26)

Documents also revealed that highest-ranking US general in Iraq authorized the use of interrogation techniques that included sleep manipulation, stress positions and the use of dogs to "exploit Arab fears" of them.

A memo signed by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez authorized 29 interrogation techniques, including 12 that exceeded limits in the army’s own field manual and four that it admitted risked falling foul of international law, the Geneva conventions or accepted standards on the humane treatment of prisoners.

The memo, dated Sept. 14 2003, also stated that the Iraq interrogation policy was modelled on the one used at Guantánamo Bay "but modified for applicability to a theater of war in which the Geneva conventions apply".

"The memo clearly establishes that Gen. Sanchez authorized unlawful interrogation techniques for use in Iraq, and, in particular, these techniques violate the Geneva conventions and the army’s own field manual governing interrogations," ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said in a statement. "He and other high-ranking officials who bear responsibility for the widespread abuse of detainees must be held accountable." (UK Guardian, March 30)

See our last post on the ongoing torture scandals, and official reaction to prisoner deaths at Pentagon detainment facilities.