Secret File Of Abu Ghraib
By Osh Gray Davidson
31 July, 2004
has been months since the now-infamous photographs from Abu Ghraib revealed
that American soldiers tortured Iraqi prisoners -- yet the Bush administration
has failed to get to the bottom of the abuses."There are some serious
unanswered questions," says Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican on
the Armed Services Committee. The Pentagon is stalling on several investigations,
and congressional inquiries have ground to a halt. The foot-dragging
is astonishing, given that Congress has access to classified documents
detailing the abuses outlined by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in his report
on Abu Ghraib. Rolling Stone obtained those files in June and offers
this report on their contents. -The Editors
The new classified military documents offer a chilling picture of what
happened at Abu Ghraib -- including detailed reports that U.S. troops
and translators sodomized and raped Iraqi prisoners. The secret files
-- 106 "annexes" that the Defense Department withheld from
the Taguba report last spring -- include nearly 6,000 pages of internal
Army memos and e-mails, reports on prison riots and escapes, and sworn
statements by soldiers, officers, private contractors and detainees.
The files depict a prison in complete chaos. Prisoners were fed bug-infested
food and forced to live in squalid conditions; detainees and U.S. soldiers
alike were killed and wounded in nightly mortar attacks; and loyalists
of Saddam Hussein served as guards in the facility, apparently smuggling
weapons to prisoners inside.
The files make clear
that responsibility for what Taguba called "sadistic, blatant and
wanton" abuses extends to several high-ranking officers still serving
in command positions. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who is now in charge
of all military prisons in Iraq, was dispatched to Abu Ghraib by Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last August. In a report marked secret, Miller
recommended that military police at the prison be "actively engaged
in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees."
After his plan was adopted, guards began depriving prisoners of sleep
and food, subjecting them to painful "stress positions" and
terrorizing them with dogs. A former Army intelligence officer tells
Rolling Stone that the intent of Miller's report was clear to everyone
involved: "It means treat the detainees like shit until they will
sell their mother for a blanket, some food without bugs in it and some
sleep." In the files, prisoner after prisoner at Abu Ghraib describes
acts of torture that Taguba found "credible based on the clarity
of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses."
The abuses took place at the Hard Site, a two-story cinder-block unit
at the sprawling prison that housed Iraqi criminals and insurgents,
not members of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. In one sworn
statement, Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, detainee number 151108, said he witnessed
a translator referred to only as Abu Hamid raping a teenage boy. "I
saw Abu Hamid, who was wearing the military uniform, putting his dick
in the little kid's ass," Hilas testified. "The kid was hurting
very bad." A female soldier took pictures of the rape, Hilas said.
During the Muslim
holy period of Ramadan, Hilas saw Spc. Charles Graner Jr. and an unnamed
"helper" tie a detainee to a bed around midnight. "They
. . . inserted the phosphoric light in his ass, and he was yelling for
God's help," the prisoner testified. Again, the same female soldier
photographed the torture.
Abd Alwhab Youss, was punished after guards accused him of plotting
to attack an MP with a broken toothbrush. Guards took Youss into a closed
room, poured cold water on him, pushed his head into urine and beat
him with a broom. Then the guards "pressed my ass with a broom
and spit on it," Youss said.
Mohanded Juma, detainee
number 152307, testified that on his first day at Tier 1A, the west
wing of the Hard Site where prisoners were brought for interrogation,
he was stripped and left naked in his cell for six days. Graner, the
guard in charge of the tier, entered Juma's cell at 2 a.m., cuffed his
hands and feet, and took him to the shower room, where a female interrogator
questioned him. After she left, Graner and another man threw pepper
in Juma's face, beat him with a chair until it broke and choked him
until he thought he was going to die. The assault lasted for half an
hour. "They got tired from beating me," Juma told investigators.
"They took a little break, and then they started kicking me very
hard with their feet until I passed out." In another instance,
Graner and a fellow guard reportedly beat a detainee until his nose
Torin Nelson, one
of thirty-two private contractors who worked as interrogators at Abu
Ghraib, told investigators that he spoke with an interpreter who witnessed
an interrogator toss a handcuffed prisoner from a car. "The interrogator
then yells at him for falling on the ground and starts dragging or pulling
the detainee by the cuffs," Nelson testified. He believed the story,
Nelson added, "based on the stuff that I have heard and seen."
The sworn statement
of Amjed Isail Waleed, detainee number 151365, is especially graphic.
On his first day at the Hard Site, he told investigators, guards "put
me in a dark room and started hitting me in the head and stomach and
legs." Then, one day in November, five soldiers took him into a
room, put a bag over his head and started beating him. "I could
see their feet, only, from under the bag. . . . Some of the things they
did was make me sit down like a dog, and they would hold the string
from the bag, and they made me bark like a dog, and they were laughing
at me." A soldier slammed Waleed's head against the wall, causing
the bag to fall off. "One of the police was telling me to crawl,
in Arabic," he testified, "so I crawled on my stomach, and
the police were spitting on me when I was crawling and hitting me on
my back, my head and my feet. It kept going on until their shift ended
at four o'clock in the morning. The same thing would happen in the following
Finally, after several
beatings so severe that he lost consciousness, Waleed was forced to
lay on the ground. "One of the police was pissing on me and laughing
at me," the prisoner said. He was placed in a dark room and beaten
with a broom. "And one of the police, he put a part of his stick
that he always carries inside my ass, and I felt it going inside me
about two centimeters, approximately. And I started screaming, and he
pulled it out and he washed it with water inside the room. And the two
American girls that were there when they were beating me, they were
hitting me with a ball made of sponge on my dick. And when I was tied
up in my room, one of the girls, with blond hair, she is white, she
was playing with my dick. I saw inside this facility a lot of punishment
just like what they did to me and more. And they were taking pictures
of me during all these instances."
In the classified
files, some of the photographed soldiers also provide firsthand accounts
of the abuses. Pvt. Lynndie England testified that on November 8th --
the evening of her twenty-first birthday -- she went to the Hard Site
to visit Spc. Graner, her boyfriend. Just after midnight, seven Iraqi
detainees accused of taking part in a fight at one of the many tent
compounds used to house prisoners at Abu Ghraib were brought to Tier
1A. For England, the evening was a break from the tedium of her job
processing prisoners. For Nori Al-Yasseri, detainee number 7787, it
quickly became a "night which we felt like 1,000 nights."
Al-Yasseri and the
other prisoners arrived at the Hard Site with empty sandbags over their
heads to prevent them from seeing where they were and their hands bound
behind their backs with plastic handcuffs. The guards threw the men
against the walls until they collapsed on the floor in what England
called a "dog pile." Some of the MPs took turns running across
the room and leaping on top of the men. "A couple of the detainees
kind of made an 'ah' sound, as if this hurt them or caused them some
type of pain," Spc. Jeremy Sivits testified in a sworn statement.
While the Iraqis were on the floor, England and Sgt. Javal Davis stomped
on their fingers and feet. Sivits was certain that the men felt pain
this time because he heard them scream.
So did Sgt. Shannon
Snider, who was working in an office on the top tier. Drawn by the cries
of pain, Snider leaned over the railing and in a fury yelled down to
Davis to stop abusing the prisoners. Davis stepped away from the men,
and Snider left.
that Sgt. Snider thought it was an isolated incident," Sivits testified,
"and that when he ordered Sgt. Davis to stop, it was over."
But it was just getting started.
After Snider had
gone, the MPs pulled the prisoners to their feet one by one and removed
their handcuffs. Graner, who had learned a few key phrases in Arabic,
ordered the detainees to strip. As one prisoner took off his clothes,
Graner cradled the man's head in one arm and smashed his fist into the
naked and hooded man's temple. "Damn, that hurt!" Graner complained,
waving his hand in the air. The prisoner went limp, and someone removed
his hood. "I walked over to see if the detainee was still alive,"
Sivits testified. "I could tell that the detainee was unconscious,
because his eyes were closed and he was not moving, but I could see
his chest rise and fall, so I knew he was still alive."
According to England,
Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick made an X on another prisoner's chest with
his finger and said, "Watch this." Then the six-foot-tall
Fredericks punched the man in the chest. The hooded prisoner lurched
backward and fell to his knees. He gasped for air. "Frederick said
he thought he put the detainee in cardiac arrest," Sivits later
told investigators. England was asked why she thought Frederick assaulted
the man. "I guess just because he wanted to hit him," she
seven Iraqis were standing naked and hooded, and the MPs got out their
cameras. A few pictures had been taken earlier in the evening, but now
the abuse turned into a photo-op. Men taught to be ashamed of appearing
naked in front of other men were forced to assume a series of humiliating
and bizarre poses. Graner had them climb on top of each other to form
a human pyramid, and the MPs took turns taking each other's picture
standing behind the men. In one photo, Graner and England smile and
give the thumbs-up sign behind the men, who are naked except for the
green sandbags covering their heads. The Iraqis were made to crawl across
the floor on their hands and knees while the guards rode on their backs.
Two were posed as if performing oral sex on each other, and others were
lined up against the wall and forced to masturbate while England pointed
at their genitals and leered. And all the while, the Americans were
laughing, cracking jokes and taking pictures.
An Army investigator
later asked one of the seven Iraqis how he felt that night. "I
was trying to kill myself," replied Hussein Al-Zayiadi, detainee
number 19446, "but I didn't have any way of doing it."
The secret files
make clear that day-to-day living conditions at Abu Ghraib were "deplorable"
for soldiers as well as prisoners. The facility was under constant attack
from mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. The files make no reference
to the number of attacks, but a partial list obtained by Rolling Stone
indicates that there were more than two dozen explosions between July
and September alone. Six detainees and two soldiers were killed, and
seventy-one were injured. But officers at Abu Ghraib told Taguba that
their repeated requests for combat troops and armored vehicles to protect
the facility were ignored by top brass. "I feel, and my soldiers
feel, that we're just sitting out there, waiting to die," said
Cpt. James Jones of the 229th MP Company. "As a commander, I'm
charged with bringing my soldiers home, but how do I control that? It's
frustrating. It's frightening."
The prison was filled
far beyond capacity. Some 7,000 prisoners were jammed into Abu Ghraib,
a complex erected to hold no more than 4,000 detainees. Prisoners were
held in canvas tents that became ovens in the summer heat and filled
with rain in the cold winter. One report found that the compound "is
covered with mud and many prisoner tents are close to being under water."
Another report described the conditions in one compound: "The area
is littered with trash, has pools of water standing around latrines,
and the bottles of water carried by detainees for water consumption
are filthy. The tents lack floors and are inadequate to provide protection
from the elements." Detainees wore soiled clothes because laundry
facilities were inadequate; mentally ill detainees were "receiving
In a series of increasingly
desperate e-mails sent to his higher-ups, Maj. David DiNenna of the
320th MP Battalion reported that food delivered by private contractors
was often inedible. "At least three to four times a week, the food
cannot be served because it has bugs," DiNenna reported. "Today
an entire compound of 500 prisoners could not be fed due to bugs and
dirt in the food." Four days later, DiNenna sent another e-mail
marked "URGENT URGENT URGENT!!!!!!!!" He reported that "for
the past two days prisoners have been vomiting after they eat."
that their repeated pleas for adequate food and supplies went unheeded,
even though prisoners were attacking soldiers. "I don't know how
they're not rioting every day," Jones told Taguba. The worst riot
occurred on November 24th. According to an internal investigation, prisoners
in one compound "were marching and yelling, 'Down with Bush,' and
'Bush is bad' and other slogans to that effect." The detainees
threw rocks at guard towers and at soldiers on the other side of the
concertina wire. One guard said that "the sky was black with rocks";
another added that he "feared for his life." The riot quickly
spread to other compounds, where several guards were injured by flying
debris. The soldiers fired nonlethal ammunition at the mob but quickly
exhausted their meager supplies. Fearing they were on the verge of a
mass prison break, the guards were given the go-ahead to use deadly
force, and they opened fire with live ammunition. Three detainees were
killed and nine were wounded. Nine soldiers were also injured in the
That same evening,
a detainee in Tier 1A told an MP that a prisoner had a gun and several
knives. The informant even knew where he was: Cell 35. The guards instructed
every prisoner on the tier to put their hands through the cell bars
to be handcuffed, a standard precaution before searching a cell or moving
a prisoner. But when the MPs came to Cell 35, the man inside refused
to put his hands out. Instead, he told the guards he "had no gun."
No one had used
the word gun around the prisoner. Sgt. William Cathcart, one of the
MPs on duty that night, immediately made a grab for the man's wrists.
The prisoner pulled away and fell to his knees to say a prayer. "At
that point," Cathcart told investigators, "I knew it would
be a gun battle." He was right. The detainee suddenly turned, withdrew
a 9 mm pistol from under his pillow and opened fire on Cathcart from
close range. A bullet struck the MP in the chest. Fortunately, before
beginning the search, Cathcart had put on his "full battle rattle"
- a Kevlar vest with pockets holding ceramic plates - and wasn't injured.
Another MP shot the inmate with two nonlethal rounds, knocking the man
down. But the prisoner jumped back up and continued to fire. An MP finally
ended the incident by firing a load of buckshot into the man's legs.
How did a detainee
in the Army's toughest prison in Iraq get his hands on a gun?
According to an
internal Army investigation contained in the secret files, the civilian-run
Coalition Provisional Authority had hired at least five members of Fedayeen
Saddam -- a paramilitary organization of fanatical Saddam loyalists
-- to work as guards at the prison. An Iraqi guard, probably one of
"Saddam's martyrs," had smuggled the gun and two knives into
the prison in an inner tube, placed them in a sheet and tossed them
up to the second-story window of Cell 35. In May, when Taguba testified
before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen.Wayne Allard asked him
a direct question: "Did we have terrorists in the population at
this prison?" Taguba answered, "Sir, none that we were made
aware of." His own files make clear, however, that a more accurate
response would have been: "Yes, sir -- but only among the guards."
Taguba was only
authorized to investigate the role of military police in the torture
at Abu Ghraib -- even though the Hard Site was controlled by military
intelligence when the worst abuses occurred. Nevertheless, the classified
annexes indicate that responsibility for the torture extends at least
as high as several top-ranking officers in Iraq who have yet to be disciplined
or removed from command. Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, who remains director
of military intelligence in Iraq, was aware of the conditions at Abu
Ghraib and received regular reports from officers at the prison. Lt.
Col. Steven Jordan, who directed intelligence at the prison, admitted
to Taguba that he did not actually report to the British colonel who
was supposedly his supervisor. "On paper, I work directly for him,"
Jordan told Taguba. "But between you, me and the fence post, I
work directly for General Fast." Fast is currently under investigation,
but unlike lower-ranking officers and soldiers, she has not been reprimanded
or charged in the abuses.
Miller, who was
sent by Rumsfeld to speed up interrogations at Abu Ghraib, spent ten
days in Iraq touring prisons and meeting with intelligence officials.
The two-star general was commander of the military prison at Guantenamo
Bay, Cuba -- known as Gitmo -- where "enemy combatants" were
already being subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including
the use of military dogs to frighten prisoners. According to Col. Thomas
Pappas, who commanded the military intelligence brigade at Abu Ghraib,
Miller spoke with him about using dogs on prisoners: "He said that
they used military working dogs, and that they were effective in setting
the atmosphere for which, you know, you could get information."
Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was in charge of all military prisons
in Iraq, told Rolling Stone that Miller described his plan to "Gitmo-ize
interrogation operations" in Iraq and boasted that prisoners at
Guantenamo "were treated like dogs, because you can never let them
be in charge."
Miller has denied
making either statement. But whatever he said, his plan to "rapidly
exploit internees for actionable intelligence" was quickly adopted
at Abu Ghraib. A slide presentation in the classified files spells out
the new "Interrogation Rules of Engagement," specifying that
soldiers, with proper approval, may subject prisoners to dietary manipulation,
sleep deprivation, stress positions and the "presence of mil working
dogs." In at least one instance documented by Taguba and photographed
by soldiers, a prisoner at Abu Ghraib was bitten by a dog. Most of the
MPs who have been charged with crimes say they were told by military
intelligence officers to "soften up" prisoners prior to interrogations.
"MI wanted to get them to talk," Spc. Sabrina Harman told
investigators, saying she was told to keep detainees awake. Sgt. Davis,
who jumped on the pile of seven detainees on November 8th, said intelligence
officers would tell guards to "loosen this guy up for us"
and "make sure he has a bad night."
The classified files
also show that intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib felt pressured to
produce results. "Sir," Lt. Col. Jordan told Taguba, "I
was told a couple of times . . . that some of the reporting was getting
read by Rumsfeld, folks out at Langley [the Central Intelligence Agency],
some very senior folks."
In May, after photos
of the torture were published, Rumsfeld declared that he would take
"all measures necessary" to ensure that such abuse "does
not happen again." But the defense secretary had already sent a
clear signal to commanders in Iraq about his position on the proper
way to interrogate prisoners. In April, Rumsfeld transferred Gen. Miller
from Guant?namo to Baghdad, putting him in charge of all military prisons
in Iraq. Instead of court-martialing the man who authored the plan to
subject prisoners at Abu Ghraib to harsh abuses, Rumsfeld has left him
in charge of the facility.
gentlemen, we have changed this," Miller told reporters in May.
"Trust us. We are doing this right."
(Posted Jul 28,