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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 6
Detainee Operations


The Growing Detainee Challenge

In the summer of 2003, many Coalition leaders began to see the nature of the campaign in Iraq changing. Major General Fast, the CJTF CJ2, recalled that the growing insurgency had a critical impact on Coalition detainee operations:

[CJTF-7] truly began to see and appreciate that we had the beginnings of, as Lieutenant General Sanchez would call it, low-intensity conflict. Others would call it an insurgency. We knew at that point that we had a nontraditional, irregular set of conditions on our hands and offensive operations began pretty much in earnest. I know that in one 2-week period we increased by 4,000 detainees at the Internment Facility [BCCF] based on division-level operations. Our system was never set up from point of capture, through a brigade facility, through a division facility, and into an internment facility, to handle those kinds of large numbers so it took awhile to really get it organized as a JTF.”17

The sheer volume of detainees generated by cordon and search and other operations became a formidable challenge. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Bullimore, the commander of 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery recalled that the 4th ID unit which preceded his battalion had apparently detained all the most likely insurgents in the AOR: “I took over the AO in March 2004. We completed our relief in place (RIP) with the 4th Infantry Division. What the unit did prior to me arriving was they hit every potential actionable target there was. Anything that was remotely decent on the target list, they hit it, they conducted the operation. So when I took over, I had a blank sheet of paper.” Bullimore recognized that the large-scale detentions conducted by some 4th ID units created other issues: “There were problems in that. I mean [Iraqis] had been detained, they were all over the place, and we didn’t see them until 6 months later when all these detainees were released from Abu Ghraib and other places and we had nothing on the record as to why they were detained and who detained them.”18

The swelling of the detainee population brought on ancillary problems, especially that of accountability. Doctrine directed that each detainee processed must be identified, cared for, and tracked throughout the system. All this is necessary to preclude creating “ghost detainees,” people who are detained but for whom no records exist, rendering them “invisible” to the accountability system. Accountability was essential if Coalition forces hoped to create a functioning system that reviewed detainee status, provided for release of detainees in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, and complied with commonly accepted international standards that afford detainees the opportunity to communicate with family members.

By late June 2003, the CJTF-7 commander and staff had realized they needed to assert greater control over a system that was developing in an uncoordinated fashion. One of Sanchez’s first steps was to issue a FRAGO on 28 June explaining the legal status of civilian internees and criminal detainees, and mandating that all detention facilities adhere to the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions that defined protections for EPWs and civilians, respectively, in time of war.19 Sanchez assigned overall responsibility for the detainee mission—to include training and planning—to the 800th MP Brigade and gave the commander of the 205th MI Brigade similar oversight over interrogation operations. Sanchez also began delegating supervisory responsibility for various aspects of the detainee mission to his staff. Major General Walter Wojdakowski, the deputy commanding general, took authority for prisons and other facilities where Coalition forces detained Iraqis and oversaw the establishment of procedures for the accounting of detainees. The CJ1 Personnel officer, CJ2 Intelligence officer, CJ3 Operations officer, CJ7 Engineer officer, and the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) became involved in oversight of other parts of the detainee mission. Normally, the joint task force provost marshal staff section, which would have included the senior law enforcement officer on the staff, would have also become a critical asset in creating greater control over detention operations. However, in the summer of 2003, CJTF-7 did not have a senior MP officer who could serve as provost marshal, and although Sanchez requested that DOD provide an officer with the required experience and rank, that position was not filled until much later in 2003.20

In July CJTF-7 gave additional guidance to its subordinate units involved in detainee operations. Two additional FRAGOs directed specific rules on the handling and treatment of detainees. The CJTF-7 staff also formed the Detention Working Group that was chaired by the SJA, Colonel Marc Warren, and met weekly to deal with the growing detainee problem. Warren and the CJTF-7 staff lawyers had become involved in an overwhelming number of demanding missions by the middle of the summer. They had begun sorting out the legal status of the MEK, a problem caused by the US Government’s 1997 classification of the group as a terrorist organization. After a year of internment, questioning, and continuing deliberations, the DOD decided to grant the MEK members at Camp Ashraf status as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, because of concerns that Iranian agents in the region would act against them. Warren’s section had also launched initial efforts to put the Iraqi justice system back together. They worked closely with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to reestablish the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), a project that became critical due to Saddam Hussein’s decision to grant a general amnesty in November 2002 that flooded Iraq with convicted criminals. After 1 May 2003, US and Iraqi forces arrested many of these criminals and sent them to sites such as Abu Ghraib where they swelled the number of detainees.

To help deal with the growing burden of the detainee problem, the Detention Working Group held three Detention Summits between July and December 2003, meetings which gathered representatives from MP units, division staffs, and all other units that had a “stake” in detainee operations to share experiences, discuss policies, and implement proper practices. During the Detention Summit held on 19 August 2003, for example, participants from the 800th MP Brigade, the CJTF-7 CJ2 section, and the CJTF-7 SJA presented information on detainee record databases, detention facilities, and a new detention review process that standardized the system of evaluating a detainee’s legal status and provided for appeal and release.21

The CJTF-7 staff took the rules and policies discussed at this meeting and formalized them in what Warren called “The Mother of all FRAGOs,” a long directive that the joint task force issued on 25 August 2003.22 By far the most comprehensive and detailed guidance on detainee operations up to that point, this order legally defined the status of all detainees and reiterated the mandate that all Coalition forces provide the protections established by the Geneva Conventions, including the establishment of a new magistrate status review process and an appeal and review board.23 To facilitate the status review called for by the Fourth Geneva Convention, Warren created the first magistrate cell at Camp Cropper and then another at the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility (BCCF), a site better known by its original name—the Abu Ghraib Prison. By the end of the summer, CJTF-7 had assigned 10 Soldiers from its legal staff to Abu Ghraib in an attempt to ensure all detainees had a review of their legal status within 72 hours of arrival at the facility.24 Major General Fast, the CJTF-7 CJ2 in late July 2003, became involved in the review and appeal process for those detainees classified as security internees. Fast stressed the role of this board in meeting the legal requirements of periodic review called for by the Geneva protocols:

We set up the Security Detainee (sic) Appeal and Release Board because we had to have something in place in order to be consistent with the Geneva Conventions. All of our detainees were subject to the Geneva Conventions. So we had to have a mechanism in place to meet Article 78 requirements [in Fourth Geneva Convention] for being able to adjudge within 72 hours what their status was and then at a minimum at the 6 month point to be able to review their case.25

The “Mother of All FRAGOS” also explained the accountability system and issued specific guidelines on how tactical units would handle detentions. While stating that MP units would take the lead on many detainee missions, the order directed all Coalition units train to conduct these operations. With this FRAGO, CJTF-7 set the critical procedural foundation for the many Coalition units that in the late summer of 2003 found themselves conducting detainee operations.

Recognizing that CJTF-7 required additional expertise and training on detainee operations, Sanchez requested teams of detention and interrogation experts from the DOD to help train his units. As described in the previous chapter, in late August 2003 DOD dispatched Major General Geoffrey Miller and a team from Joint Task Force–Guantanamo Bay (JTF-GTMO) to provide guidance and training in interrogation operations to CJTF-7, a special operations task force, and the Iraqi Survey Group.26 Miller’s team visited a number of sites where CJTF-7’s subordinate units conducted detainee operations, including the Abu Ghraib Prison. Although primarily concerned with assessment of interrogation practices, Miller and his team did discuss the relationship between MPs and MI interrogators and made recommendations about the establishment of a Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC), a facility that would empower CJTF-7 to conduct more efficient questioning of detainees suspected of having strategic intelligence.

In October, another assistance team, headed by Major General Donald Ryder, the Army’s Provost Marshal General, arrived in Iraq to focus specifically on the Coalition’s detainee operations. Ryder’s team conducted visits to numerous prisons and division-level detention facilities. The group then made recommendations to CJTF-7 on the detainee system’s command and control structure, its prisoner accountability databases, and methods of providing legal processes and healthcare to the detainee population. Overall, Ryder found that detainee operations in the fall of 2003 presented an uneven picture. The team’s report stated: “There is a wide variance in standards and approaches at the various detention facilities.”27 Ryder found that while not all units were conducting detainee operations efficiently or strictly in accordance with doctrine, his assessment team “did not identify any military police units purposely applying inappropriate confinement practices.”28 Ryder’s report did single out several units for doctrinally correct and effective detainee operations. The 800th MP Brigade units working with the 101st Airborne Division (101st ABN) in the Mosul area had “superb operations” and the 4th ID EPW Collection Point was “equally impressive.”29 Ryder and his team asserted that based on their inspections, the key to successful detainee operations were clear policies and standing operating procedures (SOPs) that gave direct guidance to Soldiers involved with this difficult mission.

Chapter 6. Detainee Operations

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