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High value Iraqis held under special chain of command

PTI | ByPress Trust of India, New York
May 17, 2004 06:04 PM IST

About 100 high-ranking Iraqi prisoners held for months at a time in spartan conditions on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport are being detained under a special chain of command, in situations not subject to approval by the top American commander in Iraq, a media report said on Monday.

About 100 high-ranking Iraqi prisoners held for months at a time in spartan conditions on the outskirts of Baghdad International Airport are being detained under a special chain of command, in situations not subject to approval by the top American commander in Iraq, a media report said on Monday.

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The Iraqi detainees, categorised by American officials as "high value detainees" because of the special intelligence they are believed to possess, held at Camp Cropper on the airport's outskirts do not include Saddam Hussein, American government officials were quoted as saying.

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The officials said Hussein, who is under FBI control, has also been held in isolation. The group does, however, include Tariq Aziz, a top Hussein aide, and other former senior officials depicted on a deck of cards created by the Pentagon to represent a 55-member most wanted list, the officials told the 'New York Times.'

In a report completed in February, the Red Cross committee said it had written to American officials last October recommending an end to the isolation imposed on the high-value prisoners, the Times said.

"The internment of persons in solitary confinement for months at a time in cells devoid of daylight for nearly 23 hours a day is more severe than the forms of internment provided for" under the Geneva Conventions, the Red Cross said in the report. MORE

The unusual lines of authority in the detainees' handling are part of a tangled network of authority over prisoners in Iraq, in which the military police, military intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, various military commanders and the Pentagon itself have all played a role, the daily said.

It quoted Congressional investigators, who are looking into the scandal over the abuse of Iraqi prisoners, as saying those arrangements have made it difficult to determine where the final authority lies.

At least as of February, many of the 100 or so prisoners categorised by US officials as "high value detainees" because of the special intelligence they are believed to possess, had been held since June 2003 for nearly 23 hours a day in strict solitary confinement in small concrete cells without sunlight, the paper said quoting a report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

While not tantamount to the sexual humiliation and other abuses inflicted on Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, the conditions have been described by the Red Cross as a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the international treaty that the Bush administration has said it regards as "fully applicable" to all prisoners held by the US in Iraq.

Under arrangements in effect since October, military officials said at a Pentagon briefing on Friday, explicit authorization from the American commander, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, has been required in each of about 25 cases in which prisoners have been subjected to isolation for longer than 30 days.

But yesterday, a senior military officer told the Times that statement did not apply to the prisoners being held at the airport, because "we were not the authority" for the high-value detainees.

Defence Department officials told the paper that the principal responsibility for the high -value prisoners and their treatment belonged to the Iraq Survey Group, which is headed by Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

The 1,400-person Iraq Survey Group was formed last June, principally to take charge of the hunt for Iraq's illicit weapons, although its mandate has also included gathering information about Iraqi war crimes.

The survey group falls under the overall authority of the Central Intelligence Agency, under George J. Tenet, for matters related to the illicit weapons hunt. But on other matters it reports to the Central Command, under Gen. John P. Abizaid, the paper said.

The designation of a "high value detainee" was described by military officials as subjective, assigned to prisoners based on an assessment of the intelligence information they might have about matters like illicit weapons, the anti-American insurgency or the conduct of Hussein's government.

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