- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

GENEVA — A report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) made public yesterday documents a long list of abuses of Iraqi prisoners by coalition forces, including physical and psychological torture, death and serious injury.

The report, which draws on information collected by the organization from March to November 2003 during 29 visits to 14 internment facilities in central and southern Iraq, depicts “a consistent pattern with respect to times and places of brutal behavior during arrest.”

It says, however, that ill-treatment during interrogation “was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an ‘intelligence value.’ ”

In such cases, it says, “persons deprived of their liberty under supervision of the Military Intelligence were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments, ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture.”

The ICRC confirmed the authenticity of the 24-page confidential report, which was published in part by the Wall Street Journal on Friday and posted on its Web site in full yesterday.

But the Geneva-based organization said it had no intention of publishing the findings, first presented to coalition authorities in Baghdad on Feb. 12.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the ICRC’s director of operations, told reporters on Friday that the document “should have remained confidential.”

“It is clear that our findings do not allow us to conclude that what we were dealing with here indicates [that the abuses in the] Abu Ghraib [prison] were isolated acts by individual members of the coalition forces. What we have described amounts to a pattern and a broad system,” he said.

Mr. Kraehenbuehl’s remarks and the ICRC report suggest a wider pattern of abuse than was acknowledged during Capitol Hill testimony on Friday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who said “these terrible acts were perpetrated by a small number of U.S. military” personnel.

Mr. Kraehenbuehl also said that ICRC President Jacob Kellenberger had raised concerns related to detentions in Iraq when he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in Washington in January.

“The main focus of the conversations at the time were concerns related to Guantanamo [Bay],” Mr. Kraehenbuehl said, referring to the U.S. base in Cuba. “But he did raise issues related to Afghanistan … and to Iraq, and made reference to an upcoming report that the ICRC was going to submit, and to references the ICRC had made previously inside Iraq.”

At the Pentagon, a defense official said the ICRC report had been presented to the Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S. military authorities in Baghdad and that the ICRC had indicated that it had been “taken seriously” by U.S. officials.

“The ICRC have been to our facilities on more than one occasion and they have made some recommendations and we have acted on those recommendations,” the official said. “Things were brought to our attention and corrective action was taken.”

The official said he did not know whether the contentions in the ICRC report would be investigated as part of the probe into prisoner abuse in Iraq.

Mr. Kraehenbuehl agreed that “there were improvements” since the report and noted that in the most recent visits to Abu Ghraib “there were clearly indications of improvement on a number of issues, including treatment. But not all the issues had been addressed yet.”

The report says the corpse of a detainee who died “following ill-treatment” in the southern city of Basra in September revealed, according to witnesses, “a broken nose, several broken ribs and skin lesions on the face consistent with beatings.”

The report also describes “shootings of persons during periods of internment with live bullets during periods of unrest or escape attempts, keeping a person naked in a completely dark and empty cell for prolonged periods” and detainees “being paraded naked outside cells in front of other persons.”

It says those methods were used by military intelligence “in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information.”

The report also says coalition military intelligence officers told ICRC investigators that “between 70 and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.”

The ICRC, which was founded in 1863 to provide humanitarian assistance in times of war and conflict, does not identify its investigators but employs predominantly Swiss citizens. Last year, its staff visited 469,648 detainees held in 1,923 detention facilities in about 80 countries.

The ICRC, which enjoys unimpeded access to facilities under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, normally keeps its findings strictly confidential in exchange for being allowed to conduct private interviews with prisoners of war and other detainees. Its reports include recommendations to help authorities stem any breaches and improve conditions.

The visits are widely considered a valuable safeguard against torture, summary executions and disappearances.

In addition to caring for prisoners and providing medical assistance to combatants as well as civilians in conflicts, the agency distributes humanitarian assistance. It won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, 1917, 1944, and 1963.

• Bill Gertz contributed to this report in Washington.

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