US prison guards and interrogators attempted to cover up the systematic abuse of Iraqi inmates from the international Red Cross according to a US general dismissed after evidence surfaced of torture at a jail near Baghdad.
The claims add weight to a growing body of evidence that the reports of torture at Abu Ghraib prison reflect a pattern of abuse which goes far beyond the six guards now facing possible court martial.
WOLFOWITZ TOURS ABU GHRAIB PRISON
US Brigadier General Janice Karpinski (L) giving a tour to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz at the Abu Ghraib prison, on the outskirts of Baghdad, on July 20, 2003. Karpinski is in charge of the prison. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
The former head of US military prisons in Iraq, Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who was relieved of her command earlier this year, yesterday alleged that military intelligence officers discouraged her from entering the cell block at Abu Ghraib where they interrogated prisoners. They also went "to great lengths to try to exclude" the International Red Cross from their prison wing.
A US military investigation, carried out by Major General Antonio Taguba, uncovered evidence of war crimes against the inmates, including: breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.
The New Yorker magazine, which obtained a complete copy of the report, observed: "General Taguba saved his harshest words for the military intelligence officers and private contractors."
The Taguba report urged disciplinary action against two employees of a Virginia-based firm, CACI International, hired to carry out interrogations. A company spokeswoman said that its employees had volunteered to be interviewed by investigators but she was unaware of any charges against them.
It is unclear what, if any, legal jurisdiction such contractors operate under while on assignment in Iraq and observers of the rapidly growing private security industry have warned that they are dangerously unregulated.
Six guards from the 800 Military Police Brigade stationed at Abu Ghraib face charges and possible court martial for the physical and sexual abuse of prisoners. More senior officers face further disciplinary action and Gen Karpinski was quietly sent home early this year.
The Taguba report described Gen Karpinski as extremely emotional.
There was a case of physical abuse of Iraqi inmates at another prison camp under her command last year. In that instance, at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq, four soldiers were discharged but claimed that they had been acting in self-defense and blamed chaotic conditions at the camp. However Gen Karpinski insisted to journalists at the time that Iraqi prisoners were being treated humanely and fairly.
In an interview with the Washington Post, the general sought to distance herself from the prison scandal.
"The prison, and that particular cell block where the events took place, were under the control of the MI [military intelligence] command," she said.
She conceded that she "probably should have been more aggressive" about visiting the cell block, particularly after military intelligence officers went "to great lengths to try to exclude the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross) from access to that interrogation wing".
Major General Geoffrey Miller, a former commanding officer at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for non-American suspected terrorists, has been reassigned to Iraq in an attempt to overhaul the prison system left behind by Gen Karpinksi.
He is conducting a review that will embrace interrogation procedures and the role played by private contractors.
The scandal at Abu Ghraib, coupled with the revelations over the weekend of alleged brutality against Iraqi inmates by British soldiers, has provoked worldwide outrage, and added to already boiling Middle Eastern resentment of the occupation.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004