- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

U.S. military officers told soldiers interrogating Iraqi detainees that the Geneva Conventions against prisoner abuse and torture did not apply, according to a Human Rights Watch report released today.

The report is based in part on first-hand accounts by U.S. military personnel in Iraq who either witnessed or participated in the abuse in three separate locations in Iraq from 2003 to 2005. Attempts to chronicle the instances were rebuffed, one military interrogator told the international human rights group.

A spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq said he had not seen the 53-page report, but that detainees were always to be handled under international standards.

“It has always been quite clear that the Geneva Conventions do apply and are applied to detainees,” Lt. Col. Barry Johnson told The Washington Times in a telephone interview.

According to the report, some of the most serious instances of detainee abuse in Iraq revolved around a special military and CIA task force, known at various times as Task Force 20, Task Force 121, Task Force 6-26 and Task Force 145.

Through most of 2003 and 2004, the task force had a detention and interrogation center at Camp Nama, inside the Baghdad International Airport, or BIAP, the report said.

The center had four rooms: black, blue, red and soft, with the black room being reserved for the harshest treatments.

A sergeant whose real name was withheld at his request and who worked at Camp Nama as an interrogator told the rights group that he had been uncomfortable with the level of abuse, including that of a detainee who was stripped naked outside in winter, thrown in the mud and sprayed with cold water.

“A few more weeks of this, and a group of us went to the colonel there and told him we were uneasy about it,” the report quoted the sergeant as saying. Within hours, he said, military lawyers gave a slide-show presentation of why the actions were legal as the detainees were enemy combatants, not prisoners of war.

“I was very annoyed with them because they were saying things like we didn’t have to abide by the Geneva Conventions, because these people weren’t POWs,” the sergeant said. He added that neither the Red Cross nor Criminal Investigation Command had access to the facility.

The report details beatings, the use of sleep deprivation, and at an interrogation center at Forward Operating Base Tiger, near al Qaim in western Iraq, placing detainees in metal containers with temperatures reaching the 130s before beating them.

A sergeant identified in the report as “Nick Forrester” (not his real name), stationed at forward operating base Tiger from May to September 2003, said he questioned the techniques, but his objections were pushed aside by the military interrogator.

Col. Johnson said that abuse of detainees is not tolerated or accepted.

“If there are allegations of abuse, those making the allegations need to step forward so investigators can review their claims and take appropriate measures. Obviously, investigations can’t be conducted based on second-hand information from unnamed sources.”

Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, the Pentagon said it would apply the Geneva Conventions to all terrorism suspects held by the United States.

Prior to that decision, the Bush administration had said that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terrorism suspects held in military custody.

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