Abuse of Iraqi prisoners stemmed from frustration: report

Published on May 25, 2004 08:01 PM IST

The "appalling and shocking" "sadistic behaviour" and physical abuse of Iraqi prison detainees by the US military stemmed from a mixture of soldiers' anger and frustration over poor working conditions, their "racism" and the absence of any "meaningful supervision," an unclassified US army report said.

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PTI | ByPress Trust of India, Washington

The "appalling and shocking" "sadistic behaviour" and physical abuse of Iraqi prison detainees by the US military stemmed from a mixture of soldiers' anger and frustration over poor working conditions, their "racism" and the absence of any "meaningful supervision," an unclassified US army report said.

At the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, "the worst human qualities and behaviour came to the fore" in an atmosphere of "danger, promiscuity and negativity" within a closed environment, the report by an Air Force psychiatrist, Col. Henry Nelson, who studied the episode for the U.S. Army said.

The report was published by The Washington Post, which said it was provided the unclassified report, which has been appended to Army Major General Antonio M. Taguba's 2,000-page analysis of the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib.

It is based on a review of thousands of pages of interview transcripts and other documents the Pentagon has not released.

Besides training lapses, the report said the soldiers' unfamiliarity with Islamic culture, their pervasive sense of danger and the indefinite nature of their tenure were factors that wore them down.

"Abuse with sexual themes occurred and was witnessed, condoned and photographed but never reported" he wrote

Col. Nelson's report, the Post points out, "is at odds with recent Congressional testimony by top Army and military intelligence officials that the prison abuse involved only low-ranking soldiers and was not known by more senior officers. 
 
On August 23, Col Nelson wrote, an intelligence officer "kicked and beat a passive, culled detainee who was suspected of mortaring Abu Ghraib." The incident, he asserts, "was witnessed by officers and NCOs (senior enlisted officers) alike".

Military officials have generally described the abuses as a function of "aberrant behaviour" and weak leadership within the military police units stationed at the prison rather than as a result of orders passed down the military chain of command.

Col Nelson's study suggests that the abuses were "wanton acts of select soldiers in an unsupervised and dangerous setting."

In highlighting psychological and cultural factors underlying the abuses, Col Nelson noted that soldiers sent to Iraq were immersed in Islamic culture for the first time and said "there is an association of Muslims with terrorism" that contributed to misperceptions, fear and "a devaluation of a people."

Col Nelson describes the climate at Abu Ghraib as grim and the living conditions as "deplorable" and dangerous, a circumstance that he said provoked some of the U.S. Soldiers' anger and hostility towards their prisoners.

The prison, he says, was "lacking most of the amenities at other camps."

The prison has "both depressive and anxiety-laden elements that would grind down even the most motivated soldier and lead to anger and possible lack of control.

"It is important to remember dominance in and of itself is not improper. In fact, interrogators knowingly dominate their subjects and sometimes intimidate their subjects. But, clearly, behaviour at Abu Ghraib crossed the line."

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