A confidential report by the International
Committee of the Red Cross says its officials saw U.S. troops in Iraq mistreat
prisoners under interrogation and warned the Bush administration earlier this
year that such abuse was widespread. U.S. military officials say they began an
investigation into prisoner abuse in January. The Red Cross has confirmed that
the leaked report, which appeared on the website of The Wall Street Journal newspaper,
The 24-page report, based on inspections and interviews conducted by Red
Cross officials at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison and other detention facilities
last year, was submitted to the U.S. government in February.
It notes that mistreatment of prisoners in the custody of U.S. military intelligence
in Iraq was part of a pattern and not the result of individual acts. It says
that, in some cases, such abuse was "tantamount to torture." But it clarifies
that systematic ill-treatment under interrogation was limited to detainees
suspected of security offenses or those deemed to have an intelligence value.
President Bush has said the mistreatment was the wrongdoing of a few soldiers,
but the Red Cross report says its officials witnessed and documented a variety
of methods used by interrogators to secure the cooperation of the prisoners.
The report says one practice used by guards at Abu Ghraib was to keep prisoners
naked in empty cells and in total darkness. The report quotes the military
intelligence officer in charge of interrogating prisoners there as saying that
this practice was "part of the process."
The Red Cross report says prisoners were subjected to harsh treatment as
part of an effort by intelligence officers to obtain confessions and extract
information from them. It says Red Cross officials found evidence supporting
prisoners' allegations of abuse, such as burns, bruises and other injuries.
The report also alleges that British troops in the southern Iraqi city of
Basra beat one prisoner to death and documents eight instances in which unnamed
coalition forces opened fire - in some cases, from watchtowers - on unarmed
prisoners who were rioting or trying to escape, killing seven of them. It says
the coalition determined, after investigating those incidents, that its soldiers
had acted properly.
Two-months after the last Red Cross visit detailed in the report, pictures
were taken of U.S. troops abusing prisoners. Those pictures appeared in news
media late last month, causing international outrage and prompting apologies
by President Bush and other top U.S. officials. Criminal charges have now been
filed against seven U.S. soldiers.