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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 Issue of Abuse in US Army Detainee Operations in Iraq

The case of the shooting at the 4th FSB collection point illustrated the types of problems units faced in 2003 when they transitioned to conducting nondoctrinal missions for which their Soldiers and leaders were untrained and unprepared. Without clear policies, established standards, and effective training, units experienced difficulties in adapting to detainee operations. In a very small number of cases, American Soldiers did not meet the standards of international decency and committed abuses of Iraqi detainees. The Department of the Army (DA) IG investigation into detainee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan found that as of June 2004, there were 94 cases of confirmed or possible abuse out of approximately 50,000 cases of detention. While the IG investigation team stressed that “even one case of abuse is unacceptable,” it concluded that the large majority of US Soldiers conducted detainee operations “humanely and properly.”46

What led this small contingent of American Soldiers to mistreat Iraqi detainees? The previous chapter recounted the events and conditions that allowed or caused MI interrogators in the JIDC at the Abu Ghraib Prison to commit abuses. This section will shift the focus to examine the causes of the abuses that occurred during detention operations at Abu Ghraib. Some of the factors that led the MI Soldiers in the JIDC to mistreat detainees were also responsible for the abuses elsewhere in the US Army’s detainee system in Iraq. As noted earlier, the Army assigned the mission of interrogation of EPWs and detainees to Soldiers in the MI branch. Field Manual (FM) 34-52, Intelligence Interrogation, provided doctrinal procedures for this mission. The confinement of EPWs and civilian internees was the responsibility of MP Soldiers who used Army Regulation (AR) 190-8, Enemy Prisoners of War, Retained Personnel, Civilian Internees, and Other Detainees (1997), and FM 3-19.40, Military Police Internment/Resettlement Operations (2001), as their regulatory and doctrinal guidelines.

In OIF, as in almost all other combat operations or campaigns, MPs were not the Soldiers on the scene at the beginning of the detention process. That role usually fell to the infantry and other combat arms Soldiers who conducted cordon and searches, raids, patrols, and other missions that brought them into close contact with the Iraqi population. Detentions occurred during these operations at an initial stage known as the “point of capture,” the instance where the US Soldier first made physical contact with the individual. The capture often occurred after firefights or other incidents in which Soldiers were attacked, wounded, or killed. It was in this setting that Soldiers committed most of the documented abuses. The DA IG’s Detainee Operations Inspection found that of the 94 confirmed or possible cases of abuse recorded up to mid-2004, 48 percent occurred at the point of capture.47 The best explanation for these abuses was Soldier’s uncertainty in very unpredictable situations. The IG report stated: “The point of capture is the location where most contact with detainees occurs under the most uncertain, dangerous, and frequently violent circumstances.”48 Major General Fast, the CJTF-7 CJ2, offered a similar perspective:

There has been a lot of looking back and particularly with the abuse cases both on the detention side and point of capture. The majority were really point of capture abuses. That is very, very difficult and that is part of the training we are giving to our Soldiers now. One minute you are in a fire fight and maybe your best buddy has been killed, but certainly a guy is trying to kill you. The next minute you are holding the guy in your hands. Your adrenaline is flowing and it takes every ounce of discipline to suddenly treat this guy under the new rules as he is now a detainee in your custody and you have to treat him differently.49

As Fast noted, the treatment of detainees in the midst of or just after combat required an extraordinary amount of personal control, and the rough handling of known insurgents and even suspected enemies was not unprecedented. As in other military operations, especially counterinsurgency campaigns that featured an elusive enemy that did not wear a uniform and hid within the civilian population, the uncertain nature of the security environment in Iraq sometimes led to cases where American Soldiers mistreated Iraqis as they took them into custody.

After capture, the detainee would be taken to a central collecting point normally run by division- or brigade-size units. Twenty percent of the possible or confirmed abuses happened at these sites where Soldiers unfamiliar with detainment procedures often served on guard forces. The final level in the detention system, the internment or detention facility, served as the setting for 22 percent of the possible or confirmed abuses.50 This statistic included the abuses committed by MPs at Abu Ghraib Prison in 2003. Abusive practices at this stage in the process begs another question: Why did MPs—the Soldiers assigned to the confinement mission by doctrine and ostensibly trained to conduct detainee operations—participate in the mistreatment of detained Iraqis? To help answer this question, the following discussion offers a brief overview of detention operations in support of the JIDC at Abu Ghraib, focusing on the critical factors that generated an environment in which Soldiers could commit abuses.51

In the summer of 2003 Abu Ghraib, Saddam’s most notorious prison, became the site where the Coalition held criminal detainees. By late summer the prison complex had also become the site where Coalition forces confined criminals as well as detainees considered high security risks or having critical intelligence value. CJTF-7 gave the 800th MP Brigade responsibility for running the prison; but because the brigade had missions across Iraq, Brigadier General Karpinski assigned only one unit, the 320th MP Battalion, to conduct confinement operations at the prison. This unit had trained as an internment/resettlement (I/R) battalion, the type of MP unit that performs confinement operations, and earlier that summer it had conducted detainee operations at Camp Bucca near the port city of Umm Qasr. However, the subordinate companies that made up the battalion changed over the course of 2003 and some of the companies in the battalion had neither the training nor the experience for the confinement mission. In August the Soldiers of the 320th MP Battalion had moved into Abu Ghraib and begun the confinement mission there. By early fall there were approximately 4,000 criminal and security internees inside the main prison building and several smaller tent compounds that made up the Abu Ghraib Prison complex. This number of detainees overwhelmed the battalion’s Soldiers. The executive officer of the 320th MP Battalion stated that given the numbers of detainees, proper confinement operations required two I/R battalions.52

In early September the 320th MP Battalion began confinement operations in support of the newly established JIDC. CJTF-7 established the JIDC inside the prison complex and assigned cellblocks located on Tier 1 of the hardened main prison building to house prisoners considered MI Holds, or those suspected of having critical information that could create actionable intelligence. As noted in the previous chapter, the term “MI Hold” did not denote a category of detainee and was not recognized by the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Coalition adopted the use of the term to create a grouping of detainees who after having been screened by Soldiers were identified as likely holding intelligence of critical value and were awaiting interrogation. CJTF-7’s use of the MI Hold category simply served to assist in managing the increasing number of detainees who could offer key details about the growing insurgency.

On the surface, the addition of the JIDC meant a simple expansion of MP confinement duties on the complex. Nothing about the MI mission in the JIDC should have affected how the MPs did their job, which was to confine the MI Hold detainees and escort these detainees to and from the JIDC where MI Soldiers had responsibility for them. MP doctrine mandated this narrow set of duties for MP Soldiers when working in close proximity to interrogation operations. The 2001 version of FM 3-19.40, the MP doctrine that governed detainee operations, recognized that interrogation operations might take place inside EPW or confinement facilities. However, doctrinal guidelines did not go beyond directing MP officers to coordinate generally with MI personnel stationed inside the facility and at times offer updates to MI Soldiers on the condition and mood of individual detainees. Likewise, nothing in the 1992 version of FM 34-52, Intelligence Interrogation, stated that MI units integrate or employ MPs in ways other than confinement and escort duties.

Despite the norms established in both MP and MI doctrine, within weeks of the introduction of the JIDC, the MPs working on Tier 1 had moved far beyond these specific missions. Indeed, records gathered in the Army’s 2004 AR 15-6 Investigation of the 800th MP Brigade reveal that in September MPs assisted MI operations by forcing detainees who were not cooperating during interrogation to remove their clothing—an act designed to humiliate and wear down resistance to interrogation. For example, MPs from the 72d MP Company, the unit that provided the guards on Tier 1 in September 2003, noted in their daily journal that on 15 September 2003 a detainee was “stripped down per MI. He is neked (sic) and standing tall in his cell.”53 This practice apparently expanded because when the 372d MP Company arrived at Abu Ghraib on 1 October 2003 to take over confinement operations on Tier 1, the company commander recalled that he was surprised to see so many of the detainees partially stripped of their clothing or naked in their cells. He claimed that when he asked why, other Soldiers responded that the removal of clothing was an MI technique used to make the detainee uncomfortable.54

From these two examples, it is clear that by mid-September counterresistance techniques not formally authorized by the 14 September CJTF-7 Interrogation and Counter-Resistance Policy (ICRP) were in use by MPs as part of their confinement operations on Tier 1. Further, Colonel Thomas Pappas, the commander of the 205th MI Brigade who had authority over the JIDC, acknowledged that MI Soldiers in the facility employed the MP guard force to enforce “management plans” for detainees who were uncooperative. Pappas noted, “It was understood that the specifics of management plans, let’s say, for example, like sleep management plan, would be executed by the MPs.”55 Like the forced removal of clothing, the use of sleep management or interrupting a detainee during their sleep was designed to make the detainee more compliant during interrogation.

The decisionmaking process that led the MPs on Tier 1 to become so heavily involved in managing detainees remains opaque. Some observers of the Abu Ghraib incidents have attempted to link the September 2003 visit by Major General Miller and his team from the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility to this decision. After spending a week visiting various detention sites, including Abu Ghraib, Miller made recommendations to the CJTF-7 commander that directly addressed the role of the MPs in interrogation operations. In the Executive Summary of his report, Miller asserted, “The detention operations function must act as an enabler for interrogation.”56 The report elaborated on this concept in a later section, recommending that CJTF-7 “dedicate and train a detention guard force subordinate to the JIDC Commander that sets the conditions for the successful interrogation and exploitation of internees/detainees.”57

The Miller Report, however, did not provide any detailed explanation of how MPs could help enable or set conditions for interrogations. The US Army and DOD investigations that looked closely at the Abu Ghraib incidents found no evidence Miller intended the MPs to enforce “sleep management plans” or other means of making the detainees less resistant to interrogation. One investigation chaired by James R. Schlesinger asserted that Miller’s recommendation about MP involvement in setting conditions for interrogations in the JIDC was essentially a suggestion to use MP officers as passive intelligence collectors on the cellblock, informing interrogators on the moods of individual detainees and the incentives that appeared to work most effectively for each. MPs had served in this function at Guantanamo Bay and Miller, according to the Schlesinger Report, believed it was a critical element in successful interrogations.58

While the origins of MP involvement in preparing detainees for interrogations remain unclear, what is evident is that these practices began in the middle of September and continued throughout the fall. The 372d MP Company, the unit that provided the guard force for the MI Hold detainees after 1 October 2003, had not trained for confinement operations and simply followed the practices of their predecessors by working with MI interrogators in managing detainees. In November, after becoming concerned about the potential liability of his Soldiers in assisting with these practices, the commander of the 372d began forcing MI Soldiers to put their requests for sleep management and other techniques in writing to have documentation in case a detainee suffered serious injuries.59 Despite his concerns, however, the commander maintained the close cooperation between his MPs and the interrogators.

Other practices by the MP guards on Tier 1 that constituted abuse were not related to the process of managing the detainees for the interrogation mission. In late October five MPs stripped three Iraqi detainees of their clothing and subjected them to physical and sexual humiliation.60 In early November several of the same MP guards forced a non-MI Hold detainee to stand on a box with a hood over his head while the Soldiers attached wires to his fingers. The detainee was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted.61 Three days after this incident, the same group of MPs ordered seven non-MI Hold detainees to strip off their clothes, physically abused them, and forced the men into sexually humiliating positions.62 As the Fay–Jones AR 15-6 Investigation noted, these abuses resulted from the criminal propensities of a small number of MPs serving on Tier 1.63 Soldiers involved in these three incidents captured the abuses with photographs and distributed them to others in the 372d MP Company. Eventually, a concerned Soldier in the 320th MP Battalion made copies of the photos and turned them over to the Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID), which used them as evidence in a formal inquiry into the abuses at the prison. These photos were the images that ultimately found their way to the media in the spring of 2004 and shocked many in the US military, the American public, and the international community.

The Army’s CID was just the first agency to investigate the detention operations on Tier 1 of the Abu Ghraib Prison. That investigation served as the catalyst for a series of broader investigations that expanded the scope of the inquiry. In January 2004 Lieutenant General Sanchez, the CJTF-7 commander, requested that CENTCOM look into the operations of the 800th MP Brigade. The result was the AR 15-6 Investigation, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba, completed in early March 2004. At the end of March Sanchez appointed Major General George Fay to investigate the operations of the 205th MI Brigade, which was responsible for operations in the JIDC. In June 2004 the Army folded that inquiry into an investigation headed by Lieutenant General Anthony Jones into higher-level MI policies and practices in Iraq. The Secretary of the Army in February 2004 also directed the IG’s office to conduct the aforementioned investigation of the Army’s detainee operations in the Global War on Terrorism that encompassed Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and Iraq.

The Taguba AR 15-6 Investigation into the 800th MP Brigade and the Fay–Jones AR 15-6 Investigation offer the most detailed data and analysis of the operations in the Abu Ghraib Prison and in the JIDC. Using evidence from the CID investigation as well as its own interviews, the Fay–Jones investigation contended that between September 2003 and January 2004 there was significant evidence suggesting at least 20 incidents of abuse involving MPs in addition to those noted above.64 Most of the violent and sexually-oriented abuses, the team noted in its report, “occurred separately from scheduled interrogations and did not focus on persons held for intelligence purposes.”65

The interviews and documents gathered in the process of conducting these investigations help answer the question posed earlier in this section: Why would MPs participate in practices that constituted the abuse of detainees? The report of the AR 15-6 Investigation into the 800th MP Brigade found three critical factors that help explain these abuses: weakness in MP training, poor leadership in the MP units at Abu Ghraib, and lack of clear procedures and policies at the prison complex. The Army investigators who focused on the MPs found that the lack of training for the confinement mission was a major issue. While the mission of the 800th MP Brigade included the establishment of internment and resettlement camps, its subordinate units were not all trained to conduct those operations. In particular, the 372d MP Company that took over the detention mission on Tier 1 in October 2003 had trained for MP law and order operations. This meant the company arrived at the prison without any extensive knowledge of proper confinement procedures or doctrine, a fact that forced the company commander to rely on Soldiers who in civilian life had experience in corrections or law enforcement. Although recognizing that his Soldiers lacked the basic understanding of confinement operations, the company commander did not find the means to give the MPs working at Abu Ghraib training in the fundamentals of those operations.66

Leadership deficiencies, from company through brigade level, also contributed to the potential for abuse. The most debilitating failure was the inability or unwillingness of any of the officers involved directly or indirectly with operations on Tier 1 to determine who had authority for what occurred on that cellblock. As noted in the previous chapter, the 205th MI Brigade officers who oversaw interrogation operations did not believe Tier 1 was their responsibility. On the other hand, the commander of the 372d MP Company, who understood he had responsibility for the detention operations in that part of the prison, allowed the interrogators to employ his Soldiers in managing detainee sleep plans and clothing removal, although he believed these practices unorthodox. More revealing was that the MP lieutenant in charge of Tier 1 told Army investigators he believed MI Soldiers had control of that tier, and he was responsible only for his MPs and the basic accountability and care of the detainees.67 In this environment where understanding of authority and responsibilities on Tier 1 was less than clear, none of the MPs questioned the practice of managing the detainees. Major General Taguba, in his report, emphasized the failure to establish clear spheres of command authority for the detainee operations on Tier 1 and the significant leadership deficiencies among the senior NCOs and officers with direct responsibility for these operations. His report recommended that eight of the MP officers involved in the detainee operations on Tier 1 be relieved from their duties.68

The blurred understanding of the command hierarchy on Tier 1 might have been clarified. In November, after most of the abuses in the prison occurred, Sanchez made a decision about the chain of command at the Abu Ghraib Prison. Because leaders at Abu Ghraib had not managed to create a real security plan for Abu Ghraib even though attacks against the prison complex increased through the fall, Sanchez appointed Colonel Pappas, commander of the 205th MI Brigade, as commander of the FOB at Abu Ghraib on 19 November 2003. CJTF-7’s two-sentence order making this change stated, “Effective immediately commander 205 MI BDE assumes responsibility for the Baghdad Central Confinement Facility (BCCF) and is appointed the FOB commander. Units currently at Abu Ghurayb (BCCF) are TACON [under tactical control] to 205 MI BDE for security of detainees and FOB protection.”69 The first sentence gave Pappas a broad mandate to take responsibility for operations at Abu Ghraib. The second sentence, using the term TACON or tactical control, meant that Pappas had authority to direct the actions of non-MI units at the prison to establish “security of detainees and FOB protection.” Joint organizations like CJTF-7 used the term TACON to designate the command association between units that did not have a formal relationship. In this case, up until 19 November 2003, the 205th MI Brigade did not have formal command authority over the disparate non-MI units located at the Abu Ghraib Prison complex. Normally, a unit that has TACON of another unit has command authority over that organization for execution of specific missions or tasks.70

Pappas focused on the second sentence of this FRAGO, interpreting the order as a directive to take charge of the security of the entire complex.71 In fact, he quickly moved one of his MI battalions into Abu Ghraib to help with the force protection mission. This fact notwithstanding, Pappas never interpreted the order from CJTF-7 as a mandate to assert his authority into all operations on the prison complex, including the MP detention operations on Tier 1 and elsewhere in the facility.72 Pappas contended that he had wanted to take command of the MPs on Tier 1, but had been rebuffed by Brigadier General Karpinski, the 800th MP Brigade Commander.73 However, in his investigation into the 800th MP Brigade, Taguba found that Pappas did not communicate the requirements of this new TACON relationship to either Karpinski or to the commander of the 320th MP Battalion, the MP unit located at the prison. Indeed, the CJTF-7 FRAGO did nothing to alter the way detainee operations at the prison were conducted, and the overall confusion about who was in charge of Tier 1 continued.

Closely connected to the leadership problems was an overall lack of policy and procedures on Tier 1. On the most basic level, the MPs from the 372d MP Company who worked in these areas of the prison had no official SOPs to guide their detention operations. Their chain of command at the battalion and brigade level had not provided them with this essential guidance.74 Eventually, the Soldiers created their own procedures, but having had no training in confinement operations, these guides were rudimentary at best. The company commander also stated his Soldiers had neither requested nor were furnished copies of the Geneva Convention; according to Pappas, the MI officers in the JIDC never gave copies of either version of the CJTF-7 ICRP to the MPs. Without the ICRP, the MPs would not have known whether sleep disruption, removal of clothing, and other detainee management techniques employed on the tier had received official sanction.

Ultimately, these three factors—lack of training, poor leadership, and a deficiency of policy and procedures—helped create an environment in which poorly disciplined Soldiers could perpetrate abuses. As stated earlier, the investigations into the incidents on Tier 1 acknowledge that the criminal propensities of a few Soldiers contributed to the abuses. However, it is hard to imagine how those Soldiers would have been able to perpetrate multiple incidents of abuse in an operation that had strictly defined procedures and was closely supervised by both junior and senior leaders.

A number of Soldiers involved in these incidents were punished for their misconduct in Abu Ghraib. As a result of the criminal and administrative investigations, the US Army court-martialed 12 Soldiers, including 1 officer, for their roles in the detainee abuses. In 2005 a general court-martial convicted Corporal Charles A. Graner Jr., 372d MP Company, of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, maltreatment of detainees, and assaulting detainees, and sentenced him to 10 years confinement and a dishonorable discharge. Private First Class Lynndie England, an administrative clerk in the 372d MP Company who had appeared in many of the Abu Ghraib pictures, including the image of her holding a leash tied to a prisoner’s neck, was also convicted by a general court-martial in September 2005. She was found guilty of conspiracy to maltreat detainees, maltreatment of detainees, and committing an indecent act, and was sentenced to 3 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the officer who served as the director of the JIDC in the fall of 2003, went before a court-martial in the summer of 2007, but was acquitted of all charges related to the mistreatment of detainees. (The court did convict Jordan of disobeying a lawful order to not discuss the investigation into the Abu Ghraib incidents given to him by Major General Fay. However, this criminal conviction was administratively dismissed by Major General Richard J. Rowe in January 2008.) Other senior leaders, including Brigadier General Karpinski, received adverse administrative actions, such as relief of command for cause, reprimands, and reductions in grade.

Chapter 6. Detainee Operations

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