PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon National Guard soldiers attempted to stop Iraqi jailers from abusing dozens of prisoners, but were ordered to return the prisoners to their abusers and leave, according to a published report.
A soldier spotted a man beating a prisoner June 29 in a courtyard near the Iraqi Interior Ministry (search), The Oregonian, which had a reporter with the Oregon guardsmen of the 2nd Battalion, 162nd Infantry, reported in Sunday's editions. Members of the unit later saw other prisoners who appeared to have been beaten, and items that could have been used to torture them.
Capt. Jarrell Southall gave the newspaper a written account of the incident and other guardsmen, speaking on condition of anonymity, interviewed in Iraq echoed his account, the newspaper said.
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq told The Oregonian that the United States raised questions about the June 29 "brutality" with Iraq's interior minister.
The embassy would not say what response was received, but said the soldiers "acted professionally and calmly to ease tensions and defend prisoners who needed help."
The incident occurred after Iraqi officials announced a crackdown on crime and police and security forces arrested about 150 people in a Baghdad neighborhood, the newspaper said.
On June 29, while the Oregon guardsmen were on patrol, a scout positioned in a tall building looked through the telescopic sight on his rifle at the Justice Ministry (search) courtyard.
He saw a man beating a prisoner with a rod or a stick, took photographs and radioed battalion headquarters to report the abuse, said soldiers who spoke with the scout.
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Daniel Hendrickson, led a group of soldiers to the compound and entered the detention yard unchallenged, according to the account by Southall, of Newark, Calif., who serves with the Oregon Guard.
According to Southall and other soldiers, the guardsmen separated the prisoners from the Iraqi policemen.
"Many of these prisoners had bruises and cuts and belt or hose marks all over," Southall said. "I witnessed prisoners who were barely able to walk."
The Oregon soldiers freed the prisoners, gave them water and administered first aid.
At about that time, U.S. military police arrived and disarmed the Iraqi policemen, according to Southall.
Hendrickson demanded to speak with someone in charge of the policemen, and a well-dressed man told him "there was no prisoner abuse and that everything was under control and they were trying to conduct about 150 investigations as soon as possible," Southall said.
Hendrickson led some of the Oregon guardsmen into a nearby building and found a room containing "even more prisoners, all in the same sad shape as the prisoners found in the outer area," Southall said.
They also found "hoses, broken lamps and chemicals of some variety" which could have been used as torture devices, Southall said.
After Hendrickson radioed for instructions, he was told to return the prisoners to the Iraqi authorities and leave the detention yard.
Neither Hendrickson, a Corvallis police officer, nor others interviewed by The Oregonian would say who gave the order.
Hendrickson referred further questions about the episode to Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond of the 1st Cavalry.
The story of what happened June 29 "needs to be told," Hammond told The Oregonian. But he said that, "because of the nature of this issue, it's being handled at a higher level than me."