WASHINGTON - A military intelligence analyst who recently completed duty at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said Wednesday that the 16-year-old son of a detainee there was abused by U.S. soldiers in order to break his father's resistance to interrogators.
The analyst said the teenager was stripped naked, thrown in the back of an open truck, driven around in the cold night air, splattered with mud and then presented to his father at Abu Ghraib, the prison at the center of the ongoing scandal over abuse of Iraqi detainees.
Upon seeing his frail and frightened son, the prisoner broke down and cried and told interrogators he would tell them whatever they wanted, the analyst said.
The new account of mistreatment came as Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits was sentenced in Iraq to a year in prison Wednesday and a bad-conduct discharge after pleading guilty in the first court-martial stemming from the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
In Washington, the top commanders for U.S. forces in Iraq told a Senate committee that they never approved abusive techniques for interrogating prisoners. But they also promised that investigators would scrutinize the performance of everyone in the chain of command, including the generals themselves.
Sgt. Samuel Provance, who maintained the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion's top secret computer system at Abu Ghraib prison, gave the account of abuse of the teenager in a telephone interview from Germany, where he is now stationed. He said he also has described the incident to army investigators.
Provance's account of mistreatment of a prisoner's son is consistent with concerns raised by the International Red Cross. The Red Cross noted it had received reports that interrogators were making threats of reprisals against detainees' family members.
Provance already has been deemed a credible witness by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who included the army sergeant in a list of witnesses whose statements he relied on to make his findings of prisoner mistreatment at Abu Ghraib.
Although Defense Department officials have portrayed the abuses at the prison as the isolated conduct of a few out-of-control guards, Provance's account offers fresh evidence of broader participation in abuses, encompassing at least military and civilian interrogators at Abu Ghraib.
In fact, Provance said members of the military intelligence unit at Abu Ghraib were well aware that prisoners were subjected to sexual humiliation and abusive behavior.
One female interrogator told him of forcing detainees to wear nothing but women's underwear and questioning a male prisoner who was kept naked during interrogation, Provance said. He said he overheard colleagues in the military intelligence battalion laughing as a soldier in the unit described watching MPs use two detainees as "practice dummies," first knocking one prisoner unconscious with a blow and then doing the same to the other.
Provance, 30, said he was not present for the mistreatment of the detainee's son, which he said occurred in December or possibly January. But he said an interrogator described the incident to him shortly afterward. When contacted by the Chicago Tribune on Wednesday, that soldier declined to comment.
Provance said he escorted the boy from the interrogation cell block to the prison's general population immediately after the encounter between the teenager and his father.
"This kid was so frail. He was shaking like a leaf," Provance said. "He said he was glad we had come there (to topple Saddam Hussein's government) but he didn't understand all these raids, all that we were doing to him."
Provance added that he urged the interrogators not to put the teenager in among the prison's unruly, poorly supervised general population, which included many hardened criminals. But Provance said he was rebuffed.
"I even went inside and said `This kid is scared for his life. He's probably going to be raped. He can't be put in general population,' " Provance said.
Provance said he did not know the identity of either the father or son but said the father was described to him as a "high-level individual" who had not provided any useful intelligence in previous rounds of questioning.
Army spokesman Col. Joseph Curtin said he could not comment on the incidents described by Provance because they are the subject of an ongoing investigation. But, Curtin said, "We are working very hard to get to the truth."
Maj. Paul Karnaze, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., said that army policy forbids any abuse or threats of abuse against family members during interrogations.
"It's not in our doctrine," Karnaze said. "That's just so far from the Army values we train."
Provance said he described the abuse of the prisoner's son and other incidents he learned of to investigators, mostly recently in an interview earlier this month with Maj. Gen. George Fay, who is overseeing the army's investigation of military intelligence officials' involvement in prisoner abuse.
Provance said that he became concerned that military officials were trying to cover up the role of military intelligence officials in prisoner mistreatment after receiving written instructions shortly after the interview with Fay telling him not to discuss anything that happened at Abu Ghraib.
In addition, Provance said, Fay warned him that the general would likely recommend administrative action against him for not reporting abuses before his first sworn statement, made in January after criminal investigators opened a case against MPs at the prison. The administrative action would effectively bar future promotions for Provance.
"I felt like I was being punished for being honest," Provance said.
An Army official said it was routine procedure for military investigators to instruct witnesses not to discuss events that are under examination.
Provance said he questioned treatment of prisoners several times last fall without effect.
"I would voice my opinion...and they would say `What do you know. You're a system administrator,' " Provance said. Among the interrogators, "there's a certain cockiness," he added.
Provance said his duties recently were switched from a computer systems administrator to a military intelligence analyst but he remains on duty with his unit, which returned from Iraq in February. He is now stationed at headquarters for the Army's V Corps in Heidelberg, Germany, he said.
© 2004, Knight-Ridder