Mar. 29, 2005 – Newly released documents from the US military tell the harrowing story of a 20-year-old Iraqi, who was detained along with family members, forced to perform intense physical exercises while soldiers harassed and possibly assaulted him, and who suffered a broken jaw while in military custody. An army investigator assigned to look into the incident determined that Salah Salih Jassimâ€™s injury resulted from an "intentional act," that "abuse of the detainees" at that holding facility was considered "acceptable practice," and that military personnel "engaged in physical torture of the detainees" held there.
The documents detailing the investigation into the events surrounding the young Iraqiâ€™s broken jaw are just a few of the more than 1,200 pages released last week by the Army in its most recent response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed October 2003 by the American Civil Liberties Union and other human rights groups. So far, that FOIA request, backed up by a court order, has yielded over 30,000 documents from several government agencies over the course of the last six months.
"These documents provide further evidence that the torture of detainees was much more widespread than the government has acknowledged," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer in a press statement about the newest group of disclosed papers. "At a minimum, the documents indicate a colossal failure of leadership."
The ACLU also accused the government of seeking to "minimize coverage" of the documentsâ€™ contents by delaying their release from Monday, March 21, as scheduled, until Friday, March 25, the eve of a holiday weekend. In addition to releasing the documents directly to the American Civil Liberties Union, the government also sent some reporters copies of the documents on Friday.
While the inquiry into the circumstances that led to Jassimâ€™s broken jaw focused on the Iraqi youthâ€™s ordeal, the Army investigator, whose name is blacked out by government censors, provides insight into the detainment and treatment of detainees in the winter of 2003 at a holding facility then operated by a unit of the 101st Airborne Division called the 2nd Brigade Combat Team holding facility in Mosul.
According to Jassimâ€™s statement as well as the findings of the investigator, soldiers raided Jassimâ€™s home on December 10, 2003 and detained him along with his brother and their father. The elder Jassim was the actual target of the raid, while troops arrested Salah and his brother as "subtargets," a status defined in the investigatorâ€™s report as "male Iraqi citizens found inside a targetâ€™s home."
The Army investigator notes that, since Jassim was not a primary target, he should not have been detained in the first place and that once detained "he should have been released shortly after the in-process interview but was not."
According the investigatorâ€™s report, Military Intelligence personnel gave Jassim a detainee number and placed a bag over his head bearing the inscription "IED," the acronym for "improvised explosive device." Soldiers put similar bags on the other detainees, each marked with references to different types of crimes, "leading the guards to believe that the particular detainee committed that particular crime." The investigator noted that soldiers marked Jassim with "a particularly hated crime by infantry soldiers patrolling the streets."
Jassim was then put in a large detention room with the other detainees where solders forced them to perform "excessive amounts of exercises like flutter kicks and knee benders for a period ranging in length from three to four hours," according to the investigatorâ€™s report. The captors blasted loud music, yelled at the detainees with bullhorns, and poured cold water on them. "The guards in the room were roaming among the detainees pounding on metal doors, shouting at the detainees to perform exercises, and physically grabbing detainees up if they were slow getting to their feet," wrote the investigator.
We "always harassed the hell out of the detainees" one witness told the investigator, as quoted in the report. "I saw the Chief throw them down, put his knee in his neck and back and grind them into the floor. He would use a bull-horn and yell at them in Arabic and play heavy metal music extremely loud, they got so scared they would urinate themselves..."
"We would force them to stay awake," recalled another witness, whose name censors also redacted, "by banging on metal doors, playing loud music, screaming at them all night -- those were our instructions. We were told to not strike them."
"We â€˜hazedâ€™ the detainees," recounted still another, "we had a lot fall and hurt themselves."
"Interpreters (ICDC) blew cigarette smoke up their sand bag hoods," a fourth witness said. "They also poured water on them to get them up, after they were exhausted from being smoked."
One witness told the investigator, "We knew we were supposed to do these things because [Military Intelligence] was already doing this stuff when we got there."
Jassim alleges that after hours of the exhausting physical exercise, one of his captors hit him and broke his jaw. In his sworn statement Jassim told the investigator: "At night they were throwing water on us and making us stand and squat. From the night to the next day, from Wed. to Thursday, they were beating us... They were hitting me... [in the] stomach, neck, [and] back... with hands and boots."
The investigator wrote that "only three guards were positively identified as being in the room at the time of the incident." Two of the guards claimed they never saw what happened to Jassim. In his first statement, the third "claimed to have been assisting [Jassim to] get up when he suddenly fell. In every statement thereafter, he denies seeing [Jassim] fall."
The investigatorâ€™s conclusion was among the farthest-reaching official assessments of detainee abuse outside the infamous Abu Ghraib facility released to date:
Regardless of whether the injury was the result of a blow by a US soldier or was the result of a collapse due to muscle fatigue or muscle failure, it was an intentional act that led to the injury. If we accept the explanation the [Jassim] fell face down while trying to get up, the evidence undeniably shows that he was intentionally, excessively exercised by US soldiers for at least three hours prior in such a way that would have resulted in complete leg muscle fatigue and failureâ€¦ [The doctor that examined Jassim] stated that the lack of abrasions to [his] face, and the contusions on his body, suggest that his testimony of being beaten is more likely the truth of what happened, but excessively exercising the detainees to the point of complete muscle failure is still the result of an intentional act by US soldiers.
Nevertheless, the investigator, unable to determine who was directly responsible for the injury, did not recommend discipline for any of the soldiers involved. Instead, the investigator pointed the finger at the "Company Commander for B Company, 311th [Military Intelligence]," for "allowing abuse of detainees as standard operating procedure." The investigator also recommended discipline for "anyone else that was involved in the decision to allow abusive behavior to by [standard operating procedure] for the [Brigade Holding Area]."
"Supervision and training of the guards was almost non-existent at the Brigade Holding Area (BHA) under B Company, 311th [Military Intelligence] control," wrote the investigator. "Abuse of the detainees in some form or other was an acceptable practice and was demonstrated to the inexperienced infantry guards almost as guidance."
In addition to the investigation into the Mosul holding facility, the recently released documents contain information about inquiries into allegations that a soldier told a noncommissioned officer to take detainees out and "beat the fuck out of them." The investigation concluded that while the soldier likely said those words, no violence had resulted from the order.
Another investigation detailed in the documents looked into allegations made by a member of Task Force Iron Gunner in 2003, that the unit was routinely detaining Iraqis with little intelligence value, stealing money from detainees and committing other violations of the Geneva Conventions. Though the investigation concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing, aside from what it deemed short-term problems with procedures for dealing with detaineesâ€™ property, some of the soldiers interviewed for the inquiry expressed concerns with the criteria used to detain Iraqis.
"I think that 80 % of people we bring in are â€˜at the wrong place at the wrong time,â€™" said one soldier whose name was blacked out in a sworn statement. "That 80 % usually stay for ten to fourteen days. These people were at the site when the incident occurred but in the end were released because they have no intelligence value."