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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


Detainee Operations at the Tactical Level

As CJTF-7 developed its detainee policies and SOPs in the summer of 2003, tactical-level units were taking the initiative and making significant changes to their organizations and missions to deal with the increasing number of Iraqis detained. By September 2003 many units were conducting their own detainee operations much like those run by the 1-508th IN in the middle of the summer. The commander of the 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment (2d ACR), for example, directed his Regimental Support Squadron (RSS) to establish and run a detention facility called the Regimental Holding Area (RHA). This order essentially tasked the support squadron, which was normally focused on logistics operations, to build and operate a prison. The squadron leadership eventually issued guidance based on the orders issued by CJTF-7 that established proper methods and procedures for the handling and securing of detainees.30 This policy set SOPs for guards, schedules for detainee meals, and other details necessary to make the RHA function smoothly. Most importantly, the guidance echoed CJTF-7’s statements of policy, unequivocally charging the RHA guards to “treat all detainees with dignity and respect” and added that “no form of abuse, physical or mental (including the use of abusive language), will be directed at the detainees.”31 The squadron commander concluded his guidance by stating, “While in the RHA, the detainee will be treated within the guideline established under international humanitarian law and through military channels” and then noted that Soldiers found guilty of abuse would be subject to disciplinary actions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).32

The operations of the 2d ACR’s RHA became part of the larger detainee system established by the 1st Armored Division (1st AD) in September 2003.33 Based on CJTF-7’s guidance concerning legal status of detainees, the 1st AD’s SOP for this system set definitions for the three types of detainees: criminals, security detainees, and detainees of intelligence value.34 Security detainees posed direct threats to Coalition forces, and detainees of intelligence value warranted careful interrogation from MI Soldiers. The system also established the proper flow of detainees from squadron (battalion) to the division detention facility. That flow allowed for screening and perhaps questioning of the detained Iraqi for 8 hours at the battalion level.35 If information gained from that questioning determined the Iraqi was suspected of criminal activity, the SOP ordered his transfer to the Iraqi police. If Soldiers at the battalion level believed he was likely guilty of insurgent activity and had intelligence value, they arranged for his transfer to a regimental-level (brigade-level) detainee holding facility. The 2d ACR’s RHA was an example of this type of facility. The details of that transfer process followed CJTF-7’s guidance concerning the creation of a system that could track the detainees and included the requirement that the detaining unit complete a CPA Apprehension Form, two sworn statements from Soldiers involved in the detention, and a summary interrogation report that provided basic information on the detainee’s identity and knowledge.36 The proper completion of these documents was critical to the process, and commanders instructed Soldiers working in these facilities to refuse to accept detainees if they arrived without the proper paperwork.37 Interrogators at the regimental-level facility then conducted formal interrogations, and if the detainees were found to likely have important information about the insurgent network, the unit transferred them to the 1st AD’s Division Interrogation Facility (DIF) for further interrogation. Ultimately, the MI Soldiers at division level used the interrogations to determine whether the detained Iraqi should be released or classified as a security detainee. If designated as a security detainee, the DIF sent the detained Iraqi to the Abu Ghraib Prison.

Even with detailed guidance from higher headquarters, units faced significant difficulties in establishing detainee operations in their AORs. In the summer of 2003, for example, the 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT) of the 4th ID directed its main combat service support element, the 4th Forward Support Battalion (FSB), to establish a detainee collection point at FOB Packhorse near the city of Tikrit. The small temporary facility housed Iraqis detained by the maneuver battalions during operations in the Tikrit area. With little space available, the 4th FSB used a small building on the FOB to secure the detainees. The facility, described as makeshift by one member of the unit, had a capacity of 50 detainees, no isolation cells other than the bathrooms that were converted for that function, and only a single strand of concertina wire as the physical barrier that prevented detainees from escaping.38 The 4th FSB chain of command supervised the operation but its operations officer (S3) described the facility as suffering from too little space, too few interpreters, and a lack of guards. By September the FSB had begun relying on the brigade’s maneuver battalions to provide a constantly changing set of Soldiers as the guard force for the collection point.39

In early September the weaknesses of the facility’s physical layout, procedures, and personnel became unequivocally clear. Late in the night on 11 September a guard shot and killed a detainee who appeared to be attempting to escape by reaching across a strand of concertina wire.40 The preliminary Army investigation that ensued found no conclusive evidence the detainee had intended to escape and recommended the command initiate a criminal investigation into the incident.41 Investigating officers further found that the 4th FSB had operated its collection point without the type of clear guidance that might have prevented the incident.42 One investigator stated that the leadership of the facility had issued no written instructions to the guards, had no SOP for its operations, and had conducted no rehearsals or drills.43 Instead, the leadership had only given verbal guidance about the use of force and rules of engagement to the guard force. The investigation noted that the leadership of both the 1st BCT and the 4th FSB had regularly inspected the collection point. However, the investigating officer emphasized the inadequate guard force as well as the absence of clearly defined procedures as the main causes of the shooting of the detainee.

Despite the problems tactical units experienced in the establishment of detainee facilities and the manning of those sites with trained and knowledgeable Soldiers, the importance of generating actionable intelligence led many battalion- and even company-size units to conduct their own detainee operations. The scale of this nondoctrinal approach to detainee operations became abundantly clear in 2004 when the US Army ordered its Inspector General (IG) office, led by Lieutenant General Paul Mikolashek, to mount an investigation into the US Army’s detainee operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The IG’s team then conducted 650 interviews with Soldiers in a variety of ranks and positions. At the tactical level, the IG investigators found that by early 2004 half of the company leaders interviewed in Iraq stated their units had set up their own detainee collection points at which detainees were held for periods varying from 12 hours to 3 days and sometimes interrogated by non-MI Soldiers.44 More significantly, 77 percent of the battalion leaders interviewed in Iraq acknowledged that their units had established battalion collection points.45 Like those facilities at the company-level, battalion detainee collection points kept Iraqis for varying lengths of time, and all units investigated conducted tactical questioning or interrogations at the sites. The officers who initiated these operations were simply reacting to the requirements for greater information about the security environment in their AORs. Nevertheless, in setting up these facilities and, in some cases, conducting questioning or formal interrogations, these Soldiers had moved outside the parameters of US Army doctrine and training.

Chapter 6. Detainee Operations

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