US military policemen moved unregistered Iraqi prisoners, known as "ghost detainees", around an army-run jail at Abu Ghraib, in order to hide them from the Red Cross, according to a confidential military report.
The report on abuses at Abu Ghraib prison - a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian - described the practice of hiding prisoners as "deceptive, contrary to army doctrine, and in violation of international law".
The revelations surfaced at a time when the prison abuse scandal threatened to engulf the Pentagon and the military occupation of Iraq.
Iraqis wave their flag and chant anti U.S slogans outside Abu Ghraib prison, on the outskirts of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, May 5, 2004. Some 2,000 Iraqis demonstrated in front of Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison on Wednesday, chanting 'democracy doesn't mean killing innocent people' and demanding that the United States apologize for humiliating Iraqi prisoners. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
The US army yesterday admitted to the Senate there was evidence of widespread abuse of prisoners in military-run jails in both Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been a total of 25 recorded deaths in US military custody in both countries.
The army also said yesterday that one soldier had been court-martialed for using excessive force in shooting to death an Iraqi prisoner last September. The soldier was reduced in rank and dismissed from the army.
It disclosed, too, that it had referred to the Justice Department a homicide case involving a CIA contract interrogator alleged to be responsible for the death of an Iraqi prisoner last November. That death was at Abu Ghraib prison.
"I think the important point that I took from this hearing is that this does not appear to be an isolated incident and that there are additional reports in Iraq, and also Afghanistan," Senator Edward Kennedy said after an army briefing of the armed services committee. "And I think we also have to find out [about] the conduct of personnel down in Guantanamo as well."
The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that multiple investigations were under way into prison conditions and interrogation techniques, including at Guantanamo Bay and a naval detention center at Charleston, South Carolina.
But he denied the scandal represented a breakdown in control. "The system works," he insisted. However, Mr Rumsfeld was denounced in the Senate for failing to tell Congress about the Abu Ghraib scandal until the news broke in the press last week.
The army report on Abu Ghraib, written by Major General Antonio Taguba, is a bluntly-worded indictment of the military detention system, with harsh words for the military policemen who physically and sexually abused prisoners, their superior officers, and the private contractors who carried out interrogations and gave some of the orders.
The Taguba report described how "ghost detainees" were brought to the military police (MP) unit running several jails in Iraq by OGAs (military jargon for other government agencies, often a reference to the CIA).
"The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by OGAs without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention," the report stated.
"The joint interrogation and debriefing center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib called these detainees 'ghost detainees'. On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of 'ghost detainees' for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team."
Amanda Williamson, an ICRC spokeswoman, said its prison inspectors were not aware that prisoners had been hidden from them.
· The US plans to keep more than 130,000 troops in Iraq until the end of next year, Pentagon officials said yesterday. The decision marks a drastic departure from earlier plans to reduce troop levels sharply in the run-up to the US elections in November.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004