| An unidentified US soldier punches a detainee at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. (AP)
Washington, May 22: Prisoners who posed in three of the most infamous photographs of abuse to come out of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were not being softened up for interrogation by intelligence officers but instead were being punished for criminal acts or the amusement of their jailers, according to previously secret documents obtained by The Washington Post.
Several of the photographs taken by military police on the cellblock have become iconic, among them the naked human pyramid, the hooded man standing on a box hooked up to wires, and the three naked prisoners handcuffed together on the prison floor.
The documents show that military policemen staged the photographs as a form of entertainment or to discipline the prisoners for acts ranging from rioting to an alleged rape of a teenage boy in the prison.
The documents include statements by four of the seven military police officers now charged in the abuse scandal: Specialist Sabrina Harman, Specialist Jeremy Sivits, Sergeant Javal S. Davis and private First Class Lynndie England. Their statements provide new insights into the unfolding case.
For instance, they contain tantalising hints about the role of military intelligence officers who operated in the shadows of Tier 1A at the prison. One military police officer said in a sworn statement that civilian and military intelligence officers frequently visited Tier 1A at night, spiriting detainees away for questioning out of sight of the policemen inside a “wood hut” behind the prison building.
The documents also offer the first detailed account of how the abuse scandal unravelled.
Specialist Joseph M. Darby told investigators that he returned to Abu Ghraib from leave in November and heard about a shooting at the prison’s “hard site,” which contains Tier 1A. He said that he asked the the military policeman in charge of the tier’s night shift, Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr., if he had any photographs of the cell where the shooting took place.
Darby said Graner handed him two CDs of photographs. “I thought the discs just had pictures of Iraq, the cell where the shooting occurred,” Darby told investigators. Instead, Darby viewed hundreds of photographs showing naked detainees being abused by US soldiers. “It was just wrong,” Darby said. “I knew I had to do something.”
He said that he asked Graner, a Pennsylvania prison guard in civilian life, about the photographs. Graner replied: “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says: ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’”
In the newly obtained documents, the policemen who gave statements describe Graner and Staff Sergeant Ivan L. “Chip” Frederick II as the leaders and organisers of the abuse. Frederick was the enlisted man in charge of Tier 1A and worked as a prison guard in Virginia.
Graner, Frederick and Specialist Megan Ambuhl requested lawyers and declined to provide investigators with sworn statements. Attorneys for several of the charged MPs said their clients were acting at the behest of military intelligence officers at the prison to soften up the detainees for interrogation sessions.
Brigadier General Janis L. Karpinski has said that military intelligence officers were in charge of the cellblock at the time. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross who visited the prison in mid-October complained that detainees were being stripped and humiliated. “The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was ‘part of the process,’” the Red Cross said.