WASHINGTON – Many of the worst abuses that have come to light from the Abu Ghraib prison happened on a single November day amid a flare of insurgent violence in Iraq, the deaths of many U.S. soldiers and a breakdown of the American guards' command structure.
Nov. 8 was the day U.S. guards took most of the infamous photographs: soldiers mugging in front of a pile of naked, hooded Iraqis, prisoners forced to perform or simulate sex acts, a hooded prisoner in a scarecrow-like pose with wires attached to him.
It was unclear Friday whether most or all of the new pictures and video published by The Washington Post depicted events on Nov. 8.
At least one photo, showing Spc. Charles Graner Jr. with his arm cocked as if to punch a prisoner, is described in military court documents as having been taken that day.
When Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits (search) tearfully pleaded guilty Wednesday to abusing prisoners, he described fellow soldiers committing an escalating series of abuses on eight prisoners that included stamping on their toes and fingers and punching one man hard enough to knock him out.
Sivits is likely to testify about the events of Nov. 8 at courts-martial for other soldiers charged with abuse. Three of them declined to enter pleas at hearings Wednesday: Sgt. Javal Davis, Staff Sgt. Ivan "Chip" Frederick II and Graner.
The abuse came during Ramadan (search), the Islamic holy month of fasting and reflection. The abused Iraqis, Sivits said, had been suspected of taking part in a prison riot that day.
They were held at Abu Ghraib (search) on suspicion of common crimes, not attacks on U.S. forces, said Col. Marc Warren, the top legal adviser to Iraqi commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
The day of abuse — a Saturday — capped what had been the worst week for U.S. troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Nearly three dozen had been killed in a surge of attacks that left some other soldiers frustrated and frightened. Insurgents had attacked the Abu Ghraib prison and other U.S. bases in the area with mortars several times in previous weeks.
The day before, insurgents had downed a Black Hawk helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, killing six. Sixteen soldiers had died five days earlier when a shoulder-fired missile destroyed a Chinook transport helicopter near the flashpoint city of Fallujah.
The International Red Cross (search) temporarily pulled out of Iraq on Nov. 8 because of the violence, which also had included a deadly car bomb outside the aid group's Baghdad headquarters on Oct. 27.
Three Iraqi prisoners escaped in the four days before Nov. 8 — and an additional half-dozen detainees escaped on that day, according to the military's internal report prepared by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba.
The pressure was on to get information from prisoners to help stop the attacks.
"We've been working very hard to increase our intelligence capacity here," Sanchez told reporters in Iraq on Nov. 11. "We are not where we want to be yet."
Several accused soldiers have told investigators that military and civilian intelligence officers asked them to scare and humiliate the prisoners before they were questioned.
"The orders came directly from the intelligence community, to soften up the detainees so that intelligence information could be gathered to save the lives of soldiers in the field," said Paul Bergrin, a lawyer for Davis.
Using guards to help interrogators "set the conditions" for questioning had been one tactic recommended by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller in September. Miller, then the commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorism suspects, toured U.S. prisons in Iraq and recommended several changes in tactics to Sanchez.
Troops in Iraq adopted many of Miller's suggested approaches, military officials have said, after toning them down because some would have violated the Geneva Conventions, which apply to prisoners in Iraq. U.S. officials have said those rules did not apply to detainees at Guantanamo.
Sanchez told a Senate panel Wednesday that he never approved any tactics harsher than keeping prisoners in isolation. And Miller testified that he never meant for military guards to abuse detainees, only to tell interrogators their observations of the prisoners.
Miller now oversees the military detention facilities in Iraq. Sanchez announced last week that he would no longer even consider requests for harsh treatment of detainees other than isolation or segregation.
After Miller's visit in September, the military brought in Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder in October to survey prison camps and make more suggestions. Ryder issued his report and left Iraq just three days before Nov. 8.
Ryder opposed Miller's recommendation that military police be used to help set the stage for interrogations. He also urged officers to give more training to prison guards, which was never done.
Lack of training was one of many leadership problems with the Army Reserve unit that provided the guards at Abu Ghraib, according to the report by Gen. Taguba. He described a unit in which discipline had broken down to the point that soldiers were writing poems on their helmets and wandering around in civilian clothes carrying weapons.
Two days after the Nov. 8 spasm of abuse, the general in charge of the MPs gave written reprimands to two of the unit's leaders for failing to correct security lapses at Abu Ghraib. Taguba recommended further disciplinary action against the two officers — Lt. Col. Jerry Phillabaum and Maj. David DiNenna. It is unclear if that has happened; they have not been criminally charged.