WASHINGTON – An Army investigation found systematic abuse and possible torture of Iraqi prisoners at a base near Mosul just as top military officials became aware of abuse allegations at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison outside Baghdad, documents released Friday showed.
Records previously released by the Army have detailed abuses at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq as well as at sites in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay (search), Cuba. The documents released Friday were the first to reveal abuses at the jail in Mosul and are among the few to allege torture directly.
An officer found that detainees "were being systematically and intentionally mistreated" at the holding facility near Mosul (search) in December 2003. The 311th Military Intelligence Battalion of the Army's 101st Airborne Division ran the lockup.
"There is evidence that suggests the 311th MI personnel and/or translators engaged in physical torture of the detainees," a memo from the investigator said. The January 2004 report said the prisoners' rights under the Geneva Conventions (search) were violated.
Top military officials first became aware of the Abu Ghraib abuses in January 2004, when pictures such as those showing soldiers piling naked prisoners in a pyramid were turned over to investigators. The resulting scandal after the pictures became public tarnished the military's image in Arab countries and worldwide and sparked investigations of detainee abuses.
The records about the Mosul jail were part of more than 1,200 pages of documents referring to allegations of prisoner abuse. The Army released the records to reporters and to the American Civil Liberties Union (search), which had filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
"They show the torture and abuse of detainees was routine and such treatment was considered an acceptable practice by U.S. forces," ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh said.
Guards at the detention facility near Mosul came from at least three infantry units of the 101st Airborne, including an air-defense artillery unit. The investigating officer, whose name was blacked out of the documents, said the troops were poorly trained and encouraged to abuse prisoners.
According to the report, the abuse included:
— Forcing detainees to perform exercises such as deep knee bends for hours on end, to the point of exhaustion.
— Blowing cigarette smoke into the sandbags the prisoners were forced to wear as hoods.
— Throwing cold water on the prisoners in a room that was between 40 degrees and 50 degrees.
— Blasting the detainees with heavy-metal music, yelling at them and banging on doors and ammunition cans.
No one was punished for the abuses, however, because the investigating officer said there was not enough proof against any individual. The report did not say what actions might have amounted to torture or which individuals might have committed them.
The investigator ruled that troops were responsible for the broken jaw of a 20-year-old detainee who had been rounded up with his father, a suspected member of the Fedayeen Saddam guerrilla group.
The records released Friday also contained details of several other abuse investigations. In one case, soldiers admitted they had rounded up suspected looters near Baghdad in the summer of 2003, then stripped them naked and told them to walk home.
The staff sergeant in charge of that unit said he knew what he did was wrong but that he wanted to humiliate the looters so much they would never return. The sergeant said he was afraid another unit at their base had shot and killed a looter without being punished and would shoot others.
"I didn't want to kill him," the sergeant wrote of one looter, "so I decided to teach him a lesson."
The sergeant was given an "other than honorable" discharge and two other soldiers involved in the stripping incident were given letters of reprimand, said Army spokesman Col. Jeremy Martin.
"The command took aggressive action to hold individuals accountable," Martin said.
In another incident, soldiers from a Howitzer battery beat three detainees in September 2003. Martin said all four received nonjudicial punishment, which can include letters of reprimand, fines or reductions in rank.
The soldiers said they were angered by what the detainees had done. One prisoner had shot at U.S. soldiers while hiding behind a group of children, they claimed, while another was accused of forging passports for possible terrorists.
"I think any American and soldier would have acted as I did," a soldier wrote in a statement.