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Torture in Iraq

Soldiers generally had less direct access to OGA interrogations, in part because OGA personnel often took detainees to an isolated building and were generally more careful about being seen. But the soldiers who had watched OGA interrogations in Afghanistan said that soldiers applied in Iraq some of the techniques they learned from the OGA, including forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and exposure. At FOB Tiger, the officer said, he heard the sounds of physical violence coming from rooms where OGA interrogations were being held, but without being present in the room could not know whether the sounds were real or simulated. The soldiers said that civilian interrogators sometimes removed prisoners from detention facilities and took the paperwork that indicated a detainee was being held, apparently “disappearing” that detainee.6

The officer who spoke to Human Rights Watch made persistent efforts to raise concerns he had with superior officers up the chain of command and to obtain clearer rules on the proper treatment of prisoners. When he raised the issue with superiors, he was consistently told to keep his mouth shut, turn a blind eye, or consider his career. When he sought clearer procedures from general officers, he was told merely to use his judgment.

Altogether this officer said he spent seventeen months trying to clarify rules for prisoner treatment while seeking a meaningful investigation. He explained at length how he openly had brought his complaint directly up the chain of command, from his direct commanding officer, to the division commander, to the judge advocate general’s (JAG) office, and finally to members of the US Congress. In many cases, he was encouraged to keep his concerns quiet; his brigade commander, for example, rebuffed him when he asked for an investigation into these allegations of abuse. He believes he was not taken seriously until he began to approach members of Congress, and, indeed, just days before the publication of this report he was told that he would not be granted a pass to meet on his day off with staff members of US Senators John McCain and John Warner. He said he was told that he was being naive and that he was risking his career.

Human Rights Watch welcomes reports that the Army has agreed to investigate the abuses discussed in this report. We are concerned, however, that those investigations will only focus on low-level soldiers and officers, instead of looking as far as necessary up the chain of command. We are also concerned that military personnel who come forward to report abuses will find their careers suffer, as their commanding officers implied they would, rather than be commended for doing their duty.

If FOB Mercury is not to become one more in an expanding series of US detention facilities associated with brutality and degrading treatment, further tarnishing the reputation of the US armed forces, the policy failures must be faced head-on and the most senior responsible officials held accountable.

Accordingly, Human Rights Watch urges the following:

�? The US attorney general should appoint a special counsel to investigate any US officials—no matter their rank or position—who have participated in, ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture, or other prohibited ill-treatment against detainees in US custody.7

�? The US Congress should create a special commission, along the lines of the 9/11 Commission, to investigate the issue of detainee abuse by US military and civilian personnel abroad, including the incidents described here, as proposed in legislation sponsored by Senator Carl Levin.

�? Congress should enact legislation along the lines proposed by Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and John Warner, which would prohibit any forms of detainee treatment and interrogation not specifically authorized by the US Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, and not consistent with the Convention Against Torture. Such legislation must cover not only military units but also civilian agencies involved in interrogations, such as the CIA.

�? The US Department of Defense should conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations made in this report at all levels of the chain of command. Such an investigation must not be limited to lower-ranking enlisted personnel and officers, but must include higher-ranking officers and civilian officials linked to policies that directed, encouraged, or tolerated such abuse. Measures should be taken to ensure that soldiers who bring forward credible allegations of detainee abuse are not in any way punished for their actions.

�? The 82nd Airborne Division should implement measures to ensure the immediate investigation of credible allegations of detainee abuse.


The following is the first of three accounts in the Human Rights Watch report. Each of the soldiers was interviewed more than once. For the sake of clarity and to avoid repetition, Human Rights Watch has edited and rearranged specific passages in the accounts.

Account of Sergeant A, 82nd Airborne Division

(Sergeant A served in Afghanistan from September 2002 to March 2003 and in Iraq from August 2003 to April 2004. Human Rights Watch spoke with him on four separate occasions in July and August 2005.)

In retrospect what we did was wrong, but at the time we did what we had to do. Everything we did was accepted, everyone turned their heads.

We got to the camp in August [2003] and set up. We started to go out on missions right away. We didn’t start taking PUCs until September. Shit started to go bad right away. On my very first guard shift, for my first interrogation that I observed, was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or heart attack. At first I was surprised, like, this is what we are allowed to do? This is what we are allowed to get away with? I think the officers knew about it but didn’t want to hear about it. They didn’t want to know it even existed. But they had to.

On a normal day I was on shift in a PUC tent. When we got these guys we had them sandbagged and zip tied, meaning we had a sandbag on their heads and zip ties [plastic cuffs] on their hands. We took their belongings and tossed them in the PUC tent. We were told why they were there. If I was told they were there sitting on IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices, homemade bombs] we would fuck them up, put them in stress positions, or put them in a tent and withhold water.

The “Murderous Maniacs” was what they called us at our camp because they knew if they got caught by us and got detained by us before they went to Abu Ghraib then it would be hell to pay. They would be just, you know, you couldn’t even imagine. It was sort of like I told you when they came in it was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy go before he passes out or just collapses on you. From stress positions to keeping them up fucking two days straight, whatever. Deprive them of food, water, whatever.

To “fuck a PUC” means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs, and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day.

To “smoke” someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day. Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib but just like it. We did that for amusement.

Guard shifts were four hours. We would stress them at least in excess of twelve hours. When I go off shift and the next guy comes we are already stressing the PUC and we let the new guy know what he did and to keep fucking him. We put five-gallon water cans and made them hold them out to where they got muscle fatigue then made them do pushups and jumping jacks until they passed out. We would withhold water for whole guard shifts. And the next guy would too. Then you gotta take them to the john if you give them water and that was a pain. And we withheld food, giving them the bare minimum like crackers from MREs [Meals Ready to Eat, the military’s prepackaged food]. And sleep deprivation was a really big thing.

Someone from [Military Intelligence] told us these guys don’t get no sleep. They were directed to get intel [intelligence] from them so we had to set the conditions by banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling. All that shit. We never stripped them down because this is an all-guy base and that is fucked up shit. We poured cold water on them all the time to where they were soaking wet and we would cover them in dirt and sand. We did the jugs of water where they held them out to collapse all the time. The water and other shit…start[ed] maybe late September, early October 2003. This was all at Camp Mercury, close to the MEK base8 like ten minutes from Fallujah. We would transport the PUCs from Mercury to Abu Ghraib.

None of this happened in Afghanistan. We had MPs [military police] attached to us in Afghanistan so we didn’t deal with prisoners. We had no MPs in Iraq. We had to secure prisoners. [Military Intelligence] wants to interrogate them and they had to provide guards so we would be the guards. I did missions every day and always came back with ten to fifteen prisoners. We were told by Intel that these guys were bad, but they could be wrong, sometimes they were wrong. I would be told, “These guys were IED trigger men last week.” So we would fuck them up. Fuck them up bad. If I was told the guy was caught with a 9mm [handgun] in his car we wouldn’t fuck them up too bad—just a little. If we were on patrol and catch a guy that killed my captain or my buddy last week—man, it is human nature. So we fucked them up bad. At the same time we should be held to a higher standard. I know that now. It was wrong. There are a set of standards. But you gotta understand, this was the norm. Everyone would just sweep it under the rug.

What you allowed to happen happened. Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel. As long as no PUCs came up dead it happened. We heard rumors of PUCs dying so we were careful. We kept it to broken arms and legs and shit. If a leg was broken you call the PA—the physician’s assistant—and told him the PUC got hurt when he was taken. He would get Motrin [a pain reliever] and maybe a sling, but no cast or medical treatment.

  1. 6

    According to the UN Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (1992), enforced disappearances occur when

    persons are arrested, detained or abducted against their will or otherwise deprived of their liberty by officials of different branches or levels of Government,…followed by a refusal to disclose the fate or whereabouts of the persons concerned or a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of their liberty, which places such persons outside the protection of the law.

  2. 7

    To allow the special prosecutor to have full authority to investigate and prosecute both federal law and Uniform Code of Military Justice violations, the secretary of defense should appoint a consolidated convening authority for all armed services, to cooperate with the appointed civilian special prosecutor.

  3. 8

    Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-e Khalq, which has a base in Iraq.

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