Archive for Thursday, May 6, 2004

Iraqi prison commander apologizes for torture

May 6, 2004

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— The commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq apologized Wednesday for the abuse of prisoners by American guards and said he would invite observers from the Red Cross and Iraqi government into Abu Ghraib prison.

Inmates shouted protests about mistreatment as Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller led journalists through the lockup, the scene of photographs that showed Iraqi prisoners being abused by smiling U.S. guards.

"I would like to apologize for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts here at Abu Ghraib," Miller said. "These are violations not only of our national policy but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community."

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the spokesman for the U.S. command, also apologized.

"My Army has been embarrassed by this. My Army has been shamed by this," he said. "And on behalf of my Army, I apologize for what those soldiers did to your citizens."

Army Col. Foster Payne, head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, said treatment of prisoners has come under intense scrutiny since the departure of the Army's 800th MP Brigade and the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.

Although Payne and Miller did not describe methods now used to obtain information, former inmates say they've undergone shock, beatings, prolonged handcuffing and hooding, sleep deprivation, and "stress positioning" -- being made to stand or sit in uncomfortable positions for hours or days.

"Those acts are illegal and cannot be used," said Payne, commander of the Texas-based 504th Military Intelligence Brigade. "If people are doing them, they are doing them without guidance."

Miller, former commander of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said he would halt or restrict some interrogation methods, especially eight to 10 "very aggressive techniques."

Those include hooding, stress positioning and sleep deprivation, which he said were now banned without specific approval.

Interrogations take place inside a pair of windowless plywood huts. Inside each hut are 12 booths with heavy steel loops on the floor for leg shackles.

The Abu Ghraib prison sprawls over the lush farm landscape west of Baghdad, its tall concrete walls bristling with razor wire and guard towers. All but a few prisoners live in fenced-in camps inside the walls, where rows of dirty tents line a field and men mill about chatting, washing or praying.

The prison was a notorious center for torture and killings during Saddam Hussein's rule.

As Miller spoke to reporters in cellblock 1A, where the photos showing prisoner abuse were taken, five women inmates yelled and waved their arms through the iron bars.

"I've been here five months," one woman shouted in Arabic. "I don't belong to the resistance. I have children at home."

At a tent camp used for detainees with medical conditions, prisoners ran out shouting. Some hobbled on crutches; one man waved his prosthetic leg overhead.

"Why? Why?" he shouted in Arabic. "Nobody has told me why I am here."

Another prisoner produced a bullhorn and read a statement in English.

"The problem of the Iraqi prisoners isn't only what is written in the news," the prisoner shouted. "Iraqi people need freedom, their dignity and their rights."

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