BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Witnesses in the trial of a U.S. soldier charged with abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib have told the court that the CIA sometimes directed abuse and orders were received from military command to toughen interrogations.
The evidence, from an officer and a chief warrant officer who served at the jail, is among the strongest so far in the Abu Ghraib trials pointing to more senior involvement in the abuse and direct orders from above to “soften up” detainees.
Previously, the Pentagon has claimed that the sexual and physical abuse that took place at the prison was the work of a few “bad apples” acting on their own initiative.
Testifying in the court martial of Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, who is charged with five accounts of abusing prisoners, Captain Donald Reese, a military police commander at Abu Ghraib, said the CIA was involved in abusing detainees.
He said U.S. civilian “OGA” officials — an acronym meaning Other Government Agency reserved for the CIA — interrogated Iraqi inmates at night, when supervision at the prison was low.
One inmate, who CIA interrogators were depriving of sleep, was suffering from “panic attacks”, he said.
“They (CIA) came in at any time of day. They came in through the back door and put (prisoners) in one of the cells. We were told by OGA that they’d be back for them again later,” Reese said via video from the United States on Wednesday.
Frederick’s trial, which began on Wednesday at a camp on the outskirts of Baghdad, is expected to conclude later on Thursday. He has pleaded guilty to the five charges against him, although he has denied some of the details.
Reese, the commander of the 372nd Military Police Company, said there were so many types of interrogators on the site it became difficult to keep track. He mentioned staff from the CIA, the FBI, military intelligence and military police.
“It was very confusing,” he said. “Sometimes they wore civilian clothes, sometime military uniforms. And military intelligence had their name tags removed sometimes.”
He said he had seen naked detainees being held at the prison shortly after arriving in October and wondered what on earth was going on. “Did you ask about the nudity?” Frederick’s lawyer Gary Myers asked Reese in court.
“I was told it was the actions of the military intelligence community and it was an accepted practice,” Reese replied.
Taking the stand after Reese, Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Kramer, a military intelligence soldier, said he had received an email in August, before much of the abuse is believed to have occurred, demanding that interrogations be “toughened up”.
“We were told we weren’t getting the intelligence they expected. Therefore we must not be conducting enough interrogations to get the intelligence,” Kramer told the court.
Kramer said the email, read out in court and admitted as evidence, had come from a captain in the U.S.-led command headquarters in Baghdad, and told him and others in similar positions to get interrogators to “take off the gloves”.
“The gloves are coming off, gentlemen, regarding these detainees,” it said. It said a Colonel Boltz “wants the detainees broken”. It did not identify him further.
“They were trying to get us to do more aggressive interrogations,” Kramer said. “They wanted us to be more aggressive in the booth.”
Myers asked whether there was a backlash among the military intelligence community that received the email.
“We were almost in shock,” Kramer said, adding that he didn’t think the U.S. military command was aware of or understood the Geneva Conventions.