| An American woman soldier with hooded and naked Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. (Reuters)
Washington, May 4: Overcrowded cell blocks, sadistic guards abusing and humiliating prisoners, inmates shot dead trying to escape down dark alleys, and detainees being spirited around the prison compound to avoid Red Cross workers.
All this happened as guards made up their own rules and superiors condoned their action.
This was not Saddam Hussein’s gulag but a devastating portrait of the US-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad described by a US army investigator.
The abuses occurred last year after the US military took over Saddam’s old prison and filled it with more than 5,000 people — some insurgents , many common criminals, others innocent of any crimes.
What emerges from an internal army investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib, a vast, 260-acre complex 20 miles west of Baghdad, is a prison that was out of control.
The investigation showed there were too many inmates and not enough guards. Training was inadequate and superiors rarely made rounds. The American guards’ morale was flattened when their of hopes of returning home soon were disappointed.
Officers lost track of inmates. Escapes went unrecorded. Top commanders could not agree on who should run the cellblocks — military police or military intelligence. In this general breakdown, some soldiers sank to “blatant, wanton and criminal abuse” of detainees. The worst of the abuses have been reported over the past week, with the revelation of graphic and sexually explicit photographs of some of the incidents.
Those abuses occurred, according to the March investigative report written by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, in one area of the prison, where prisoners suspected of terrorist activities were interrogated.
But Taguba’s report found that underlying the most horrific abuses was a prison in which mismanagement and unprofessional behaviour had become routine.
The classified report revealed a prison system so insecure that more than 27 prisoners escaped or attempted to escape in less than a year. It was so casually managed that civilian contractors wandered around without supervision and US soldiers consistently failed to fulfil even the basic duty of counting the prisoners in their charge.
Standards were so inconsistent that Taguba found that treatment of prisoners varied from shift to shift and compound to compound. The report concluded that soldiers guarding prisoners probably wrote off some escapes without reporting them. The report said that 60 per cent of Abu Ghraib inmates were “not a threat to society”.
Some Iraqis apparently considered much of the prison well run by the Americans. Family members waiting outside the rolls of concertina wire surrounding the prison said so to a Los Angeles Times reporter in April. Some prisoners were allowed to visit with family members, who waited for days for the uncertain chance to see them and bring food and clothing.
But the relatives said other parts of the prison were off-limits. It was in those areas where several intelligence officers, private contractors, and members of the 372nd Military Police Company, attached to the army’s 800th Military Police Brigade, are alleged to have taken part in the documented abuses.
The members of the 372nd, Taguba found in is report, lived under persistent attack by mortar shells, small-arms fire and rocket propelled grenades.
The unit was consistently understaffed and inmates were so poorly screened that innocent civilians were often detained indefinitely.
There were also demands by military intelligence officials to “loosen up” inmates before questioning. The investigation found that the commanders had allowed military police to be used by military intelligence officials for just that purpose, contrary to army regulations.
As for the soldiers stuck with their Iraqi charges in Abu Ghraib, they just wanted to go home.