Prison Report Saw Int'l Law Risks

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An Army general who visited Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq last fall complained that the military was violating international war standards by incarcerating common criminals along with insurgents captured in attacks against U.S.-led forces.

It was one among dozens of observations in a still-classified report, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, portraying an overcrowded, dysfunctional prison system lacking basic sanitation and medical supplies.

"Due to operational limitations, facility limitations and force protection issues, there are criminal detainees collocated with other types of detainees, including security internees," wrote Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder, the Army's provost marshal general. "However, the Geneva Convention does not allow this."

Ryder warned that mixing such prisoners "invites confusion about handling, processing and treatment."

Article 84 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits housing prisoners of war and "persons deprived of liberty for any other reason" with general criminal populations. The rules also require that enemy prisoners be kept in facilities "affording every guarantee of hygiene and healthfulness."

Other senior Army officials, including Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who was appointed in January to investigate allegations of abuses and whose report found them widespread, also have complained separately about the mingling of prison populations in Iraq.

But none so explicitly acknowledged that the Army's procedures might have violated international law.

"You can no longer say there was some unclarity or wiggle room about what we were doing there," said Deborah Pearlstein, director of the U.S. law and security program for Human Rights First, a private rights organization. "Here you have your own general saying, 'We're in violation of international law.'"

The report described a chaotic prison system, with staff lacking "basic necessities" such as food, cleaning supplies and hygiene items, and carrying little accountability for providing adequate health care.

At some facilities, contractors were allowed to use "unsecured" and "unsupervised" tools, while soldiers carried weapons when interacting with detainees — "an unacceptable risk inside a confinement facility," according to the report. The report does not specify what the tools were.

At Camp Ganci, the holding facility for security internees at Abu Ghraib, the "area is littered with trash, has pools of water standing around latrines and the bottles of water carried by detainees for water consumption are filthy," the report said.

Moreover, it charged, Abu Ghraib "lacks hospital beds, diagnostic equipment" and is unprepared to care for chronically sick and mentally ill detainees.

Ryder's 64-page report, dated Nov. 5, concludes that "there were no military police units purposely applying inappropriate confinement practices."

Ryder did mention use of "improper restraint techniques" and "flawed or insufficiently detailed use of force and other standing operating procedures" at some unspecified prisons in Iraq.

According to The New York Times, Ryder found that many detained at Abu Ghraib — even in the high-security wing where the alleged abuses took place — were held on scant evidence. Some had merely expressed "displeasure or ill will" toward U.S. troops.

However, Ryder concluded that military police weren't asked to help prepare prisoners for interrogations, a determination that was contradicted later during a broad investigation into prison abuses by Taguba, who said that "it is obvious ... that this was done at lower levels."

Some military police soldiers formally accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib have told Ryder's criminal investigators they were following the orders of intelligence officers and civilian contractors who told them to humiliate prisoners.

Some Pentagon critics have questioned how Ryder could have investigated Iraq's prisons last fall — the period during which some of the Abu Ghraib abuses took place — without seeing any abuse.

An Army spokesman declined to comment on the report. Ryder's mission in Iraq was to assess the capabilities of the country's prison system — not at a specific prison. The report was assigned by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the chief of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Ryder's role in the prison abuse investigation has raised concerns by some military law experts about a potential conflict of interest.

Ryder was promoted Oct. 29 to provost marshal general in charge of all Army law enforcement units, including the military police now at the center of the investigation, while he was in the middle of his probe of the prisons staffed by those MPs.

In his new job as provost marshal general, Ryder helps set policy for the MPs that guard Iraq prisons. He also retains the command he has had since January 2002 over the Army Criminal Investigation Division, whose agents are leading investigations into the activities at Abu Ghraib.

The Army said it is confident Ryder does not need to withdraw from any role in the investigation and that investigators won't be inhibited to reach conclusions that might affect their boss.

Criminal investigators "have the highest integrity of anyone in the Army. It's ingrained from day one; they feel absolutely unencumbered from command influence," said Ryder's deputy commander, Col. Scott Taylor.

Some military law experts said Ryder's unusual dual responsibility would raise ethical conflicts if abuse investigations at Abu Ghraib focus even partly on Ryder's visit or prison policies issued by his office.

"It's a real complicating factor in my mind," said Walter Huffman, the Army's judge advocate general from 1997 until 2001. "It's obviously unfair to ask a CID agent who has his career and advancement opportunities in the hands of his commanding general to make a finding adverse to General Ryder."