BAGHDAD, Iraq – The U.S. military is reaping more high-quality intelligence tips from Iraqi prisoners than ever since it jettisoned several coercive interrogation techniques after the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal (search) in May, the American general in charge of Iraqi prisons said Monday.
The number of tips on insurgent operations or on the structure and financing of anti-U.S. guerrilla bands has increased 50 percent since January, Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller said in a briefing with reporters.
It is unclear what effect the intelligence has had on the insurgency. Between July and August, when Miller cited an increase in actionable tips from 200 to 325, rebel ambushes on U.S. forces grew 70 percent, from 1,600 to 2,700, according to U.S. military figures. Those attacks do not include sustained battles, such as the three weeks of fighting in Najaf (search) last month.
After the revelations of prisoner abuses by U.S. soldiers in the spring, the military brought in new teams of Army Military Intelligence interrogators at Abu Ghraib (search) and other U.S.-run prisons. Interrogators were told to change their methods, said Miller, who was in charge of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba and now runs U.S. detention facilities in Iraq.
Soldiers are no longer allowed to "soften up" prisoners by forcing them into so-called stress positions, standing or squatting in uncomfortable poses for long periods. Also banned is the practice of exposing inmates to extreme temperatures, or withholding food or denying sleep.
New interrogation teams switched to incentives-based interrogations taught by a veteran Chicago Police homicide detective who is an Army Reservist, Miller said.
The new methods are supposed to instill trust in insurgent suspects questioned for their knowledge on attack plans, locations of arms caches and leaders, as well as financing and recruiting methods, the general said.
"It's the development of rapport and treatment of detainees with respect and dignity that allows this relationship to develop very quickly," he said.
U.S. combat teams build operations on tips from interrogation transcripts within a day or even hours of prisoner questioning, Miller said.
Intelligence analysts also painstakingly crosscheck confession tips with intelligence databases to verify them. Miller said inmates are also interrogated using polygraph exams.
Ironically, military and U.S. government reports documenting the causes of the Abu Ghraib abuses assert that Miller urged tougher interrogation techniques be used in Iraq last year.
The Pentagon sent Miller to inspect interrogation procedures last summer, and he recommended using the same techniques on prisoners in Iraq that were employed on Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. Miller's intent was to boost the quality of intelligence needed to halt the growing anti-U.S. insurgency. His recommendations were approved by former U.S. land forces commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
Investigators found that the November abuses documented in dozens of photos at Abu Ghraib may have been encouraged by the more coercive interrogations.
Miller was sent back to Iraq after the abuse scandal broke and pictures emerged of U.S. soldiers stripping prisoners naked, threatening them with dogs and forcing them to simulate sexual acts. He was put in charge of detention operations and oversaw the Army's reversal of the harsh methods he had advocated only months earlier.
The Army has since sped up the review and release of Iraqi prisoners, letting some 5,000 go since April. About 500 more are to be released Sept. 15, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity.
Iraq's U.S.-run prisons still hold some 5,000 prisoners, all suspected insurgents or members of the previous regime. Just two of them are women and 70 are under 18 years old. Fewer than 150 are foreign fighter suspects.
A few foreign prisoners have been released, but mostly into the custody of their home countries, which the official declined to name.
U.S.-held Iraqis here still have no legal rights until charges are brought against them and their cases are referred to court. Since Iraqi independence June 28, only 750 Iraqi prisoners' cases have been referred to Iraq's Central Criminal court, where they are allowed to be represented by a lawyer, the official said.