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Iraq Prison Abuse Known Earlier

Some U.S. commanders in Iraq may have been alerted in December 2003 — before the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse allegations surfaced — that Iraqis in detention were being abused, a senior official said Wednesday.

Larry Di Rita, spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, confirmed that a confidential report to the Army's command in Baghdad said a joint CIA-military team hunting for Saddam Hussein and other high-priority intelligence targets had mistreated and possibly physically abused some of their detainees. The findings were first reported in Wednesday's editions of The Washington Post.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Pfc. Lynndie England are asking that statements she made when first questioned about Iraqi prisoner abuse be thrown out, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Krasula. The statements include one suggesting that England and other soldiers were just "joking around, having some fun."

The motion was one of five taken up by military judge Col. Stephen Henley in a hearing in advance of England's Jan. 18 court-martial on abuse charges stemming from photos of her pointing and smiling at naked detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

Defense spokesman Di Rita said he did not know which U.S. commanders were made aware of the report's findings when it was submitted in December 2003 to Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the Army's top intelligence officer in Iraq. The report was done by Stuart Herrington, a retired Army colonel.

The U.S. military has said it first became aware of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in January 2004. Those abuses took place mainly in October and November 2003, subsequent probes have found. The Herrington report apparently focused on treatment at detention facilities other than Abu Ghraib.

Di Rita said some members of Congress may be briefed on the Herrington report this week. It was not clear whether or in what form the report would be made public, the spokesman said.

The Post reported that top commanders, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the senior commander in Iraq at the time, knew of the Herrington report and alerted officials at U.S. Central Command of the alleged abuses.

The Post said the joint CIA-military team, known initially as Task Force 20 and later as Task Force 121, was investigated as a result of Herrington's findings. An official told the Post he could not provide results of the probe.

Di Rita said the Herrington report "raises a lot of the same issues" as other official inquiries into detention practices in Iraq — organizational issues as well as alleged physical abuse of detainees.

"It's consistent with things we've learned subsequently," Di Rita said, referring to several official investigations that examined detention operations at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.

One of those, headed by Brig. Gen. Richard Formica, focused on the detention practices of special operations forces, although it is not clear whether that probe included Task Force 20. The Formica report is likely to be finished in a few weeks, Di Rita said.

The Post, which said it recently obtained a copy of the Herrington report, said Herrington found that some U.S. arrest and detention practices at the time could "technically" be illegal.

It also quoted the report as saying coalition forces could have fueled the Iraqi insurgency by "making gratuitous enemies" as they swept up hundreds of detainees who probably did not belong in prison and held them for months.

Members of Task Force 20 included Army Rangers, Delta Force and other Special Forces' soldiers working with CIA operatives. Navy SEAL commandos were added later.

At a hearing Wednesday at Fort Bragg, Paul Arthur, an Army special investigator, testified that England was aware of her rights, including to have a lawyer present, when she was interviewed for more than four hours early the morning of Jan. 14 — three months before the photos became public.

Arthur testified that England was brought in for questioning — without a lawyer present — because investigators had obtained several pictures of her, including the now-infamous shot of her holding a naked detainee by a leash.

He said England was cooperative and did not appear fearful, and if she had asked for a lawyer he would have ended the interview. At the end of the questioning, he said, she wrote and signed a statement detailing her actions.