Iraq Prison Commander Apologizes

Published May 05, 2004

| Associated Press

The commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq apologized Wednesday for the "illegal or unauthorized acts" committed by soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison (search), where photographs showed Iraqi prisoners being abused by smiling American guards.

President Bush, appearing on Arab TV, stopped short of an apology, calling the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by some members of the U.S. military "abhorrent" and promising that those found guilty of abuse "will be brought to justice."

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller (search), giving reporters a tour of Abu Ghraib, said some interrogation techniques at the prison would be halted while others would be limited. He also invited the Red Cross to open an office there.

Even as Miller led Arab and Western reporters around, inmates shouted complaints about undignified treatment and random arrests.

"I would like to apologize for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts here at Abu Ghraib," Miller told the touring reporters.

"These are violations not only of our national policy but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community.

"It has brought a cloud over all the efforts of all of our soldiers and we will work our hardest to re-establish the trust that Iraqis feel for the coalition and the confidence people in America have in their military."

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search), spokesman for the U.S. command, also apologized for actions at the prison, which was a notorious center for torture and killings under Saddam Hussein.

"My Army has been embarrassed by this. My Army has been shamed by this. And on behalf of my Army, I apologize for what those soldiers did to your citizens," Kimmitt said. "It was reprehensible and it was unacceptable."

As Miller spoke to reporters in cellblock 1A, where the photos of Iraqis in humiliating positions were taken, five women inmates screamed, shouted and waved their arms through the iron bars.

"I've been here five months," one woman shouted in Arabic. "I don't belong to the resistance. I have children at home."

At a tent camp inside the prison used for detainees with medical conditions, prisoners ran out shouting at the bus of journalists. Some hobbled on crutches while one man waved his prosthetic leg in the air.

"Why? Why?" he shouted in Arabic. "Nobody has told me why I am here."

Another prisoner produced a bullhorn and read aloud a statement in English.

"The problem of the Iraqi prisoners isn't only what is written in the news," he said. "Iraqi prisoners need freedom, their dignity and their rights."

He complained of "random capturing from the streets," soldiers stealing property during raids on homes, "illogical questions with no relation to reality" and "mental and psychological interrogations for no obvious reasons."

Prison authorities did not allow the journalists to speak to or photograph the detainees.

Asked about claims by many prisoners after their release that they were picked up by mistake and have no connection to the anti-U.S. resistance, Col. Foster Payne, head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, said: "Some people are in the wrong place at the wrong time, but clearly everyone is not a farmer."

Outside the prison, located on the western edge of Baghdad, about 2,000 Iraqis protested the U.S. treatment of prisoners there.

The demonstrators gathered outside the main gate, chanting, "Democracy doesn't mean killing innocent people."

They also hoisted a banner that said: "Free women or we will launch jihad."

Miller said he asked the International Committee of the Red Cross (search) to have a permanent presence at the prison. Also, Iraq's Interior Ministry and Ministry of Human Rights will have offices at the facility, he said.

ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani said the group is currently the only international group monitoring Iraqi prisons, but it is only doing spot checks.

"We have access to all detention facilities, but I cannot pretend that we are visiting all detention facilities in Iraq," Doumani said. "We are visiting the main ones."

Miller said he had reviewed the Army interrogation manual's list of 53 techniques for questioning prisoners and spoke to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (search), the top general in Iraq.

"He has approved my recommendation to restrict some of those techniques," Miller said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military said it was ordering troops to use blindfolds instead of hoods and requiring interrogators to get permission before depriving inmates of sleep or keeping them in stressful positions for extended periods — two of the most common techniques reported by freed Iraqis.

Exceptions would require permission of a general officer, Miller said.

The scandal broke after CBS broadcast pictures of smiling American guards with the Iraqi prisoners. That unleashed an international outcry that undercut the U.S. position that it invaded Iraq to replace Saddam's tyrannical regime with a just and humane government.

Miller said there were "some deaths" at Abu Ghraib and they were being investigated.

Abdul-Salam Al-Qubeisi, a leading member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which organized Wednesday's protest, urged the United States to punish those soldiers involved and to pay compensation to the victims. He also said human rights groups should be allowed to visit the prisoners.

"These demands are vital to us as Iraqis and meeting them will help maintain security and alleviate tension and violence," al-Qubeisi said.

Members of the association later met with a prison official who "promised that our demands would be met," group member Sheik Majid al-Saadi said, without identifying the official.

Miller, former commander of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, said Tuesday he would reduce the number of inmates at Abu Ghraib from the current 3,800 to less than 2,000.

Miller took over the prison last month after the previous chief, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, was suspended amid investigations into the abuse claims. U.S. officials have said the guilty soldiers and their commanders would face justice.

The U.S.-led coalition has about a dozen prisons in Iraq holding up to 8,000 inmates total.

Miller's investigation at Abu Ghraib is one of three ordered by Sanchez in response to alleged abuses by U.S. Military Police, their commanders and interrogators. Six soldiers have been charged and six others have been reprimanded.

Iraqis freed from coalition jails stepped forward with new allegations of beatings, sleep deprivation and hours spent hooded and kneeling before interrogators.

One former prisoner, Muwaffaq Abbas, on Tuesday displayed scarred wrists, black eyes and a gouge on his eyebrow that he said came from nine days in a U.S. lockup. Abbas, like many other former prisoners, said he was prevented from sleeping by booming rap music and sadistic guards.

The Baghdad lawyer was arrested at his home in March with five relatives.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) said he would not prejudge the outcome of an investigation by the Royal Military Police of alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British troops.

The Daily Mirror published photographs purporting to show a hooded prisoner being abused by a soldier from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment.

"Of course, allegations of this nature are extremely serious. If they are true, that is completely unacceptable, and everybody, whether they have supported the action in Iraq or not, would say that," Blair said.

"On the other hand, if they are not true that is also extremely serious."

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