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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 V


Chapter 14


Detainee Operations

During OIF, in a setting where full spectrum operations became the norm, detainee operations quickly became one of the most common missions performed by Army units. This study has shown how, as the need for actionable intelligence rose, many tactical units reacted by attempting to gain information from Iraqis soon after they detained them. In fact, by 2004 many leaders at the tactical level had acknowledged that their units established and staffed detainee facilities where they often conducted interrogations. However, this approach did not fit into the Army’s doctrine, which clearly assigned the enemy prisoner of war (EPW)/confinement mission to the MP Corps. Simply put, the demand for information at the tactical level and the shortage of dedicated assets to gather that information rendered doctrine irrelevant. Additionally, the large number of detainees swamped a formal system set up to handle a limited amount of EPWs on a conventional battlefield.

The use of nondoctrinal detainee facilities led to a number of serious problems. As the scale of detainee operations in Iraq grew, it was clear that most Soldiers involved did not have proper training and often lacked clear guidance on how to treat detained Iraqis. In a few cases, this led to situations in which US Soldiers mistreated Iraqis. Most of the confirmed cases of mistreatment occurred at the point of capture, often in the heat of combat. However, a significant portion of the incidents happened at confinement facilities at the brigade, division, or combined joint task force (CJTF) level. The abuses in the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at the Abu Ghraib Prison fit into this category. As the case at Abu Ghraib demonstrated, in environments where Soldiers lack relevant training, policies are unclear, and leadership uncertain, even dedicated mission-oriented Soldiers can lose their moral compass.

The detainee system that evolved in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 has serious implications for the US Army. If detainee operations of this type are considered part of full spectrum operations, then the Army’s training and education systems must broadly address this mission. The doctrinal division of effort between detention and interrogation, between the MP and MI interrogators, must be maintained. If the detention and confinement mission rests solely with the MP Corps, other issues arise. In a campaign such as OIF, can the US Army field enough trained MP units to handle the large number of detainees that will likely result? The Army has begun expanding the size of the MP branch and establishing more Internment/Resettlement Battalions, which have the doctrinal mission of running detainee facilities. However, any recasting of the MP branch and detainee operations doctrine must deal with the need for actionable intelligence at the tactical level by units conducting operations and having constant interaction with combatants and noncombatants.

The means of preventing further detainee mistreatment appears to be more straightforward. The keys are proper training, clear policies, and the presence of leadership that will enforce established standards. As noted above, in the relatively small number of confirmed cases of detainee abuse these elements were missing. Solid training on the basics of EPW/detainee treatment and enforcement from junior leaders will help prevent abuses at the point of capture. New policy, from the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act to FM 2-22.3, gives Soldiers clear parameters for detainee operations, especially those beyond the point of capture. To ensure these standards are met, commanders should consider selecting senior officers to oversee detainee operations. In 2004 Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I) appointed a major general as the deputy commander for detainee operations and gave him resources to provide oversight of those operations. The formal establishment of similar command or staff positions at lower echelons within Army formations would further strengthen supervision of this critical mission.

Though not a function for which the Army is the lead arm of the US Government, national policymakers and joint commanders must plan for the interface between battlefield operations that generate detainees, and the host nation security forces, judicial process, and civilian detention systems. Soldiers must operate within a legal and doctrinal system of regulations when dealing with detained persons, but they must also work within an operational set of policies, guidelines, and host nation laws specific to the mission. The collapse of the Iraqi Government’s infrastructure in April 2003 meant Coalition forces had no partner in dealing with these thorny issues. In 2002 Saddam threw open the prison system in Iraq, releasing thousands of criminals that added yet another complicating factor to the problem. These challenges are yet another example of many that must be prepared for in advance of the start of military operations.

Chapter 14. Implications

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