US army whistleblowers allege widespread torture of Iraqi detainees

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Human Rights Watch yesterday released a report containing new and detailed allegations, by three serving US army officers, of widespread torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees by American forces, at Forward Operating Base Mercury, near Fallujah.

Prisoners are alleged to have been severely beaten, forced into painful "stress positions", deprived of sleep, denied food and water, subjected to extremes of hot and cold, and to have had chemical substances applied to their skin and eyes.

Some of the abuses were specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel, prior to prisoner interrogations, say the officers. In other cases, soldiers tortured prisoners (known as Persons Under Control—PUCs) on their own initiative, in order to "relieve stress".

"Everyone in camp knew if you wanted to work out your frustration you show up at the PUC tent. In a way it was sport", one sergeant told Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch suggests that the widespread abuses result from "civilian and military failures of leadership and confusion about interrogation standards and the application of the Geneva Conventions".

"The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden," the group's Washington Director, Tom Malinowski, is quoted as saying. "Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility."

The US government has claimed in previous cases that such abuses are exceptional, and not the fault of civilian or military leaders.

An unnamed captain told Human Rights Watch that he had tried repeatedly, over a period of 17 months, to raise concerns about the abuses with his superior officers, only to be told to ignore them and "consider his career". The concerns were only taken seriously after he approached members of Congress, he says. The Los Angeles Times today named the officer as Captain Ian Fishback.

The US army yesterday announced that it had launched an investigation into the captain's allegations. Army Spokesman Paul Boyce told the Associated Press that army officials opened the inquiry as soon as the concerns were brought to their attention. "These are allegations of potential felony crimes," Boyce told the Los Angeles Times. "We want to speak to anyone else who might be able to corroborate this information. These things should be looked into thoroughly."

According to the Los Angeles Times, the investigation was opened following a referral from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Captain Fishback is the first officer to make such allegations publicly since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal came to light last year, says the newspaper, quoting an unnamed Capitol Hill aide as saying that the allegations are "very credible".