BAGHDAD, Iraq – The commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq promised to end interrogation techniques considered humiliating and reduce the number of Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib (search) prison, as the United States seeks to counter a growing prisoner abuse scandal.
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 — one of the most common techniques reported by freed Iraqis.
The announcement came as Iraqis freed from coalition jails — emboldened by photographs of abused prisoners — stepped forward with new allegations of beatings, sleep deprivation and hours spent hooded and kneeling before interrogators.
Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller (search), former commander of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay (search), said Tuesday his changes to interrogation techniques were aimed at getting "the maximum amount of intelligence" while treating prisoners in a humane manner. He said he would cut the number of inmates at Abu Ghraib to fewer than 2,000 from the current 3,800.
The U.S.-led coalition has about a dozen prisons around Iraq holding a total of 7,000 to 8,000 inmates. The Saddam Hussein-era Abu Ghraib, on the western edge of Baghdad, is at the center of reports that American guards abused Iraqi prisoners.
Over the summer, Miller led a team of 30 specialists who investigated — and changed — interrogation methods used in U.S.-run prisons here.
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.
"Sometimes we fell asleep despite the loud music. The soldier would put a bullhorn next to my ear and scream," said Abbas, a Baghdad lawyer arrested at his home in March with five relatives.
Miller's investigation at Abu Ghraib is one of three ordered by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, in response to alleged abuses by U.S. Military Police, their commanders and interrogators. Six soldiers have been charged and six more received stiff reprimands.
The Army said 20 investigations into prisoner deaths and assaults were under way in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Miller took over as head of the prison last month after the previous chief, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, was suspended amid investigations into the claims of abuse.
An Iraqi human rights group, the Human Rights Organization in Iraq, demanded that its investigators and other rights advocates be allowed to visit Iraqi prisoners. Mohammed al-Musawi, the group's leader, said U.S. soldiers who violate international human rights law should be handed over to Iraqi courts.
Although the military has been loath to discuss the methods it uses to get prisoners to divulge information, a pattern of techniques has emerged from about 100 former Iraqi prisoners who spoke to al-Musawi's group.
Methods allegedly include jolts from cattle prods or stun guns, described to al-Musawi by at least 10 Iraqi prisoners as "electric sticks." Beatings during arrest and interrogation were said to be routine.
Ex-prisoners said they were hooded for days and made to stand or sit in uncomfortable positions for hours or days. Some were left in the cold or sitting in the scorching sun.
Miller said U.S. interrogators are prohibited from hitting or even touching prisoners.
"There is aggressive conversation, but we do not threaten," he said. "That is not something we do. There is no physical contact between the detainees authorized and the interrogator."
Many Iraqi prisoners have permanent signs of their detention in the thin, shiny scars on their wrists from soldiers' sharp plastic cuffs. Ex-prisoners told al-Musawi and The Associated Press that their wrists were cuffed behind their backs for days. Prisoners reported soiling themselves because they were unable to remove their trousers or clean themselves after urinating or defecating.
Former prisoner Bashar al-Baldawi, 33, told AP his interrogators kept him awake for five or six days at a time. He said he was hooded for 11 days.
"One day I fell asleep because I was so tired and an American soldier opened my mouth and put Tabasco sauce in it," al-Baldawi told AP.
Some, like the Abu Ghraib prisoners seen in the infamous photos, were forced to strip naked. Suhaib al-Baz, 24, a cameraman for the Arab satellite TV network Al-Jazeera, said he was stripped, beaten, spat upon and deprived of sleep during his 74-day stint in Army custody.
Al-Baz said soldiers took pictures of inmates with their own cameras. In one case, Al-Baz said he saw a soldier's computer screen saver showing a photograph of a hooded, handcuffed prisoner being attacked by a dog.
Iraq's U.S.-appointed human rights minister, Abdul-Basat al-Turki, said he had resigned to protest the alleged abuses.