2004: U.S. Army “Taguba Report” & Red Cross Report Abu Ghraib “tantamount to torture”

Two months before the Abu Ghraib photographs exploded on the internet, the U.S. Military Police Brigade conducted an Article 15-6 Investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. An internal 53-page Army report by Major General Antonio Taguba documented numerous instances of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” at Abu Ghraib. The abuses were committed by soldiers of the Military Police and members of the American intelligence community. Among the abominations cited in the Taguba Report, which was obtained by Pulitzer Prize reporter Seymour Hersh:

“Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; Forcing naked male detainees to wear women’s underwear; Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped; Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them; (S) Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture; A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee; Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee.”

“Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; pouring cold water on naked detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick, and using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.”

Major General Taguba indicated that there was “stunning evidence to support the allegations, detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” However, he indicated that photographs and videos taken by the soldiers as the abuses were happening were not included in his report because of their “extremely sensitive nature.” As Hersh states:

“Taguba’s report [ ] amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.” (Seymour Hersh. Torture At Abu Ghraib, The New Yorker, May 2004)

An eyewitness statement describes how an Iraqi prisoner was killed during interrogation:

“They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for approximately twenty-four hours in the shower. . . . The next day the medics came and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.”

The dead Iraqi was never entered into the prison’s inmate-control system; “and therefore never had a number;” which meant his death was not documented… Maj. Gen. Taguba strongly recommended immediate disciplinary punishment for military intelligence officers and private contractors whom he identified.

The same month, the International Committee of the Red Cross issued its confidential Report on the Treatment by Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War…”
During the period between March and Nov. 2003,  the ICRC conducted 29 visits to 14 internment facilities in Iraq. The committee called the abuses  “tantamount to torture.”  The main violations include:

  • Brutality upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury
  • Physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to secure information’Prolonged solitary confinement in cells devoid of daylight
  • Excessive and disproportionate use of force…resulting in death or injury
  • A consistent pattern of brutal behavior

The most egregious violations of prisoners’ rights are detailed in section 3.1 of the document on “Methods of ill-treatment during interrogation” of prisoners of high “intelligence” value whose interrogation was supervised by military intelligence.

“[They] “were subjected to a variety of ill-treatments ranging from insults and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion that in some cases might amount to torture in order to force them to cooperate with their interrogators.”

“In certain cases, such as in Abu Ghraib military intelligence section, methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information.”

“Several military intelligence officers confirmed to the ICRC that it was part of the military intelligence process to hold a person…naked in a completely dark and empty cell for a prolonged period to use inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical and psychological coercion.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is based in Geneva and is separate from the American Red Cross. It was founded in 1863 as an independent, neutral organization intended to provide humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of war. The ICRC reports are confidential and are submitted only to the government whose facilities were inspected. This secrecy policy has led some officials to make false claims about the Red Cross findings.