NEW YORK – Military police in charge of prisons in Iraq saw their mission shift from guarding prisoners to supporting intelligence-gathering to help counter Iraqi attacks on the allied coalition last fall, The New Yorker magazine reported Sunday.
"Detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation ... to provide a safe, secure and humane environment that supports the expeditious collection of intelligence," Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, head of a military prison task force, wrote in a November memo, quoted by the magazine in its May 17 issue, out Sunday.
The magazine says that on Nov. 19, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez (search), the top operational commander in Iraq, issued an order taking tactical control of Abu Ghraib prison away from the MPs and turning it over to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade (search).
That policy went into effect over the objections of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, another military prison expert, who said the change was "not doctrinally sound due to the different missions and agendas assigned to each of these respective specialties," the story says.
In February, Taguba submitted a scathing report on widespread and shocking abuses in the prisons that some officials believe stemmed in part from that change of policy. The report said certain military-intelligence officers and civilian contractors were directly or indirectly responsible for the mistreatment.
Extensive details of inmate abuse in U.S.-run military prisons in Iraq were first reported by The Associated Press as early as last October, but the U.S. military command in Baghdad would not then answer questions on the subject.
Similarly, says The New Yorker, the International Committee of the Red Cross (search) and human rights groups had "little success" with repeated complaints to U.S. commanders about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners.
Photos of physical abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi detainees by military police were obtained by U.S. officials in February, leading to Taguba's report. The photos were made public only last week, by the magazine and CBS's "60 Minutes II."
They have since been disseminated in world media and on the Internet, generating widespread public revulsion, along with promises by the Bush administration for full-scale investigation and prosecution of soldiers who committed the abuses.
Following up on its earlier article and published photos, The New Yorker published more details and a photo of a naked Iraqi prisoner being terrorized by guard dogs. Other photos, not published by the magazine, show the same man on the floor with bloody wounds on his legs, reporter Seymour Hersh wrote.
Hersh quoted retired Maj. Gen. Charles Hines, former commandant of the Army's military police school, as saying dogs were used to detect drugs or other contraband and perhaps for riot control in military prisons, but "I never would have authorized it for interrogating or coercing prisoners. If I had, I'd have been put in jail or kicked out of the Army."
Hersh also suggested that the Pentagon's initial response to the damaging reports had been shaped by "secrecy and wishful thinking" that something good would occur to overtake bad news.
In his testimony to Congress on Friday, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said he had not seen the photos before they appeared in the news media and he "failed to recognize how important it was."