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800th MP unit: History of abuse, failure

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WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- The six soldiers facing charges in detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison are not the first ones from the 800th Military Police Brigade to carry out such acts, according to a secret Army investigation into the matter.

The report, conducted by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, has revealed significant problems with the unit's training, manning and mission, as well as the conduct of its members. It portrays an American-run prison system in disarray, plagued by overcrowding, riots, escapes, and lax discipline and record keeping that made it possible.

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The findings suggest some responsibility for the abuse may be placed much higher up the chain of command which allowed those conditions to exist.

Four soldiers from the 320th MP Battalion of the 800th Military Police Brigade had kicked and beaten detainees following a transport mission from Talil Air Base.

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The four were recommended for court martial with the support of 800th MP Brigade commander Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski. The soldiers agreed to a plea bargain and avoided jail time. The intervention with the unit stopped there, according to the report.

"There is no evidence that Brig. Gen. Karpinski ever attempted to remind 800th MP Soldiers of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions regarding detainee treatment or took any steps to ensure that such abuse was not repeated," the report states.

At least once members of the 320th also hid detainees brought to them by "other government agencies" -- a euphemism for the CIA and other intelligence organizations -- from the visiting International Committee of the Red Cross charged with making sure prisoners are treated humanely.

"This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law," the Taguba report stated.

The 800th has also allowed the escape of at least 27 detainees from prison camps around Iraq over the last year, including from Abu Ghraib. Only 27 could be documented; Karpinski reported the escape of 32 in an interview with Taguba.

Taguba recommended in the report that Karpinski be relieved of command. She received a letter of admonishment from Joint Task Force-7 Commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez on Jan. 17 but so far she retains command of the brigade.

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"What I found particularly disturbing in her testimony was her complete unwillingness to either understand or accept that many of the problems inherent in the 800th MP Brigade were caused or exacerbated by poor leadership and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers," Taguba wrote.

Taguba recommended a total of nine personnel in the brigade be relieved of their duties. Thus far two have been relieved, according to Army officials.

On his recommendation, the Army has also begun an investigation into the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and the activities of four men in particular: 205th MI Brigade commander Col. Thomas Pappas; former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center and Liaison Officer to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade Lt. Col. Steve L. Jordan; and Steven Stephanowicz and John Israel, civilians who according to Taguba work for CACI International Inc., as an interrogator and linguist, respectively.

Taguba asserted that the military intelligence unit in charge of detainee interrogation directed military police guards to "set the conditions" for MI interrogations. "I find no direct evidence that MP personnel actually participated in those MI interrogations," he said in his report.

"I suspect that (they) ... were either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib (BCCF) and strongly recommend immediate disciplinary action," Taguba wrote.

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Taguba described lax and sloppy records where any exist, and said Karpinski did not follow up to be sure her orders were implemented.

"There is no evidence that the majority of her orders directing the implementation of substantive changes were ever acted upon. Additionally, there was no follow-up by the command to verify the corrective actions were taken. Had the findings and recommendations contained within their own investigations been analyzed and actually implemented by BG Karpinski, many of the subsequent escapes, accountability lapses, and cases of abuse may have been prevented," the report states.

Karpinski herself claims she was not allowed into the detention block where the abuses occurred. She outranked the military intelligence commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, Pappas.

Karpinski told United Press International in an interview last August she had nothing to do with the "security detainees" held at Abu Ghraib.

Taguba's report says the two commanders were in conflict.

"I find that there was clear friction and lack of effective communication between the commander, 205th MI Brigade, who controlled (forward operating base) Abu Ghraib after 19 November 2003, and the commander, 800th MP Brigade, who controlled detainee operations inside the FOB," the report states.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez may have helped create the problem when he assigned Pappas command over all MP units working at the prison, a move Karpinski opposed.

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Karpinski also temporarily replaced the 320th Battalion commander with another officer to give the commander a break without notifying her chain of command.

The move "is without precedent in my military career," Taguba reports.

The same battalion commander would later be relieved of his duties by Sanchez for allowing the prisoner abuse.

Part of the problem was inadequate training, according to Taguba's report.

"I find that prior to its deployment to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 320th MP Battalion and the 372nd MP Company had received no training in detention/internee operations. I also find that very little instruction or training was provided to MP personnel on the applicable rules of the Geneva Convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war. ... Moreover, I find that few, if any, copies of the Geneva Conventions were ever made available to MP personnel or detainees."

"Security detainees" in Iraq are not legally covered by the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war because they are not technically POWs, Defense Secretary Donald Rumseld said Tuesday. However, he said soldiers know that security detainees are to be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

The 800th MP Brigade was primarily trained to guard enemy prisoners of war, rather than the criminals and insurgent fighters being collected and housed at the Abu Ghraib jail.

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"The 800th MP (I/R) units did not receive Internment/Resettlement (I/R) and corrections specific training during their mobilization period," the Taguba report states.

Only two military police battalions have received specialized corrections training, and they are in Afghanistan and Kuwait.

In contrast, military police units guarding prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base received 10 days of training in detention facility operations "to include two days of unarmed self-defense, training in interpersonal communication skills, forced cell moves, and correctional officer safety."

At least one of the accused Abu Ghraib guards is basing his defense on claims he was not properly trained, a claim the Taguba report backs up -- and lays at the feet of Karpinski.

"I found no evidence that the command, although aware of this deficiency, ever requested specific corrections training," Taguba wrote.

The 800th MP Brigade, an Army reserve unit, is also undermanned, Taguba found.

Soldiers of the 800th believed they would return to the United States after the last of the enemy prisoners of war collected during major combat operations were freed. Like many soldiers, their mission was extended to cover detainee operations in May 2003, and their morale plummeted.

"Over the next few months there did not appear to have been any attempt by the command to mitigate this morale problem," the report states.

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Taguba said Karpinski and other commanders in the 800th MP Brigade did not take steps to address "psychological factors" that wore on the troops and created a perverse atmosphere at Abu Ghraib "such as the difference in culture, the soldiers' quality of life, (and) the real presence of mortal danger over an extended time period."

Security was apparently lax inside the prison. Taguba also said Iraqi guards at the prison have provided knives and a pistol to prisoners and have helped orchestrate at least one escape.

The Army's criminal investigation division probed "several complex and extremely disturbing incidents of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib Prison" from October to December 2003.

Two officers with the 800th Military Police Brigade have been suspended from their duties.

Taguba described "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses (that were) inflicted on several detainees. This systemic and illegal abuse of detainees was intentionally perpetrated by several members of the military police guard force."

Members of other units -- 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, 205th MI Brigade, and the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center also abused prisoners, Taguba reported.

"Specifically, on 24 November 2003, SPC Luciana Spencer, 205th MI Brigade, sought to degrade a detainee by having him strip and returned to cell naked," the report states.

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Taguba's report includes a litany of abuses borne out by confessions, witness statements and photographs and videotapes.

They include punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet; videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees; forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing; forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time; 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; positioning a naked detainee on a (meals-ready-to-eat) box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture; writing "I am a Rapest" (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year-old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked; and placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female soldier pose for a picture.

The report also says a male MP guard had sex with a female detainee and a military police dog was allowed to bite and severely injure a detainee.

The perpetrators also took photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.

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The news about the 800th MP Brigade and Abu Ghraib is not all bad. Taguba praises several units and soldiers for carrying out their duties properly and upholding Army values despite "significant obstacles" and "extremely poor conditions."

Among them were the 744th MP Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Dennis McGlone; the 530th MP Battalion, commanded by Lt. Col. Stephen J. Novotny; and the 165th MI Battalion and Lt. Col. Robert P. Walters Jr.

Taguba especially singled out Master-at-Arms Pfc. William J. Kimbro, U.S. Navy dog handler, who "knew his duties and refused to participate in improper interrogations despite significant pressure from the military intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib;" Spc. Joseph M. Darby, 372nd MP Company who "discovered evidence of abuse and turned it over to military law enforcement;" and 1st Lt. David O. Sutton, 229th MP Company, who "took immediate action and stopped an abuse, then reported the incident to the chain of command."

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