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ICG Risk Blog - [ A survey of US POW interrogation and Abu Ghraib in particular, Part II ]

A survey of US POW interrogation and Abu Ghraib in particular, Part II

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Continued from Part I

Al Jazeera's Israeli lessons for the US in Iraq makes a very different causal connection: Al Jazeera's 20-odd million listeners now 'know' that it was the Israelis who taught these techniques to the Americans. In point of fact there has been spirited consultations between various Israeli and US intel and military groups, but as noted above, I put the Abu Ghraib excesses more to a combination of the reflexes that were identified in the Stanford Prison Experiment and a variant of the approved Guantanamo interrogation process gone bad, i.e., if you assign guards untrained to their task and yet too young to question their orders in charge of a prison population that you will get "any prison anywhere, Abu Ghraib included."

Of course, Al Jazeera's listeners will have none of it. They know it was Israel. For Arabs, Israel is the warp from which every fabric of the Middle East landscape is made.

The Times' In Abuse, a Portrayal of Ill-Prepared, Overwhelmed G.I.'s paints a grim picture of utterly unprepared young men and women who "works at McDonald's one day; the next day you're standing in front of hundreds of prisoners, and half are saying they're sick and half are saying they're hungry."" While the 320th Military Police Battalion's specialty was guarding enemy POWS, very few of the reservists had been trained for that role and even fewer knew how to run a prison. "They were deployed so quickly from the mid-Atlantic region that there was no time to get new lessons."

The inmate population ballooned while the 320th remained short-handed to the point that "no more than six guards on a single shift would be in charge of 700 Iraqi prisoners. "On my compound, we were doing 16-hour days. It was a very high-stress environment."" This is a disaster without the culture clashes of inexperienced US reservists consigned to a long deployment of poor conditions with, it appears, absolutely no conditioning in treating Muslim prisoners and the nature of the Middle East itself.

The 372nd Military Police Company joined the 320th shortly thereafter and all soon found themselves under nightly attack from insurgents. In short order, formal command of Abu Ghraib was transferred to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade yet the prison commander and staff state that "the military intelligence officers had, even before [transfer, had] essentially taken control of the prisoners in the Tier 1 cellblock and had encouraged their mistreatment… [The] 372nd "was directed to change facility procedures to `set the conditions' " for interrogations." "It was like they were in charge now; it's a military intelligence unit now," said a member of the 320th Battalion.

"They were in charge; it was almost like whatever his [MI] battalion wanted, his battalion got," Sergeant Lamela said of one senior intelligence officer at the prison. "He moved people out of their units so his personnel could live in their units. His personnel could walk around without proper uniforms; we as M.P.'s were not to correct them; he would say, `Let it slide.' "

The intelligence officers' practice of wearing uniforms without insignia made it difficult for soldiers to identify the officers or even to determine which of them were military and which belonged to other agencies, including the C.I.A., whose officers periodically visited Abu Ghraib prison to participate in interrogations."

I find it interesting that the commander of the 320th battalion blamed two soldiers who are "are both corrections officers in civilian life… They were the natural leaders in the military police company, he said, since they spoke of their work experiences… "Taking these prisoners out of their cells and staging bizarre acts were the thoughts of a couple of demented M.P.'s who in civilian life are prison correction officers who well know such acts are prohibited." If this proves to be a significant contributor to the event, we are right back at a 'domestic prison' causal condition.

I am certain that we will learn much more in the coming weeks about the interrogation techniques, approved and not, the 205th MI unit, and the CACI civilian interrogators, but I hope that this gives you a reference point on interrogations at the moment.

Pentagon Approved Tougher Interrogations
By Dana Priest and Joe Stephens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, May 9, 2004; Page A01

'Too nice' Guantanamo chief sacked
BBC News
Wednesday, 16 October, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK

Mistreatment of Prisoners Is Called Routine in U.S.
By FOX BUTTERFIELD
New York Times
May 8, 2004

Israeli lessons for the US in Iraq
By Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank
Al Jazeera
Friday 07 May 2004, 2:48 Makka Time, 23:48 GMT

In Abuse, a Portrayal of Ill-Prepared, Overwhelmed G.I.'s
By DOUGLAS JEHLand ERIC SCHMITT
New York Times
May 9, 2004

Gordon Housworth



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