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Abuse prohibited by Geneva Conventions, international law

WASHINGTON—The U.S. soldiers who abused and humiliated Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison violated every standard of acceptable treatment under military and international law and every known principle of effective and proper interrogation, according to experts and an Army manual.

The "use of force, mental torture, threats, insults and exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind" is clearly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions and military law, according to a 1987 edition of FM 34-52, the Army's manual on "intelligence interrogations," and current legal guidelines issued by the Army's intelligence school at Fort Huachucha, Ariz.

At least six U.S. soldiers are facing criminal charges and another seven have been reprimanded in connection with the abuse of detainees at the prison, where Saddam Hussein once tortured and murdered thousands of Iraqis.

An internal Army investigation found that prisoners were beaten, forced to go naked for days at a time, forced to lie naked in a pile and forced to simulate sexual acts with one another. Others were threatened with electrocution. Photographs of the abuse surfaced last week, provoking outrage around the world.

Soldiers charged in the case, most of them military police, have told investigators they engaged in the mistreatment at the direction of military intelligence specialists to "soften up" the prisoners for interrogation. Officials at the Army's military intelligence training center say that kind of behavior is strictly off limits.

"That's not the way we do business," Tanja Linton, a Fort Huachucha spokeswoman, said Wednesday. "That's not the way we train soldiers to do anything."

The 1987 manual, the latest edition available to the public, says "experience indicates that the use of force is not necessary to gain the cooperation of sources for interrogation," describing it as a "poor technique" that "yields unreliable results" and "may damage subsequent collection efforts." Interrogators are encouraged to gain trust and manipulate with trickery and rewards for good behavior, but not with force or the threat of force.

Legal guidelines issued by the school forbid "any form of physical torture, including food deprivation, beating, infliction of pain through chemicals or bondage or electric shock." Interrogators also may not use or imply physical or mental torture, including "mock executions, abnormal sleep deprivation, or chemically induced psychosis," the guidelines say.

While recognizing that some interrogation techniques "may approach the line between lawful actions and unlawful actions," the guidelines pose a set of simple questions to determine what's acceptable:

"Would a reasonable person being interrogated feel their rights are violated if they refused to cooperate? If the contemplated action were perpetrated against U.S. prisoners of war, would I think such actions violate international or U.S. law? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, soldiers must not engage in contemplated action."

The 1949 Geneva Conventions outline how prisoners of war must be handled, and a fundamental provision is that they must be treated humanely.

While detainees in Iraq don't fall under the traditional category of "prisoners of war," they do fall under the status of "protected persons" under Article 27 of the 3rd Geneva Convention, said Gary Solis, an expert on the laws of war at Georgetown University in Washington.

Article 27 "doesn't say you can't pile them up naked," but it does specify that protected people must be treated humanely and with honor and respect for themselves and their religious beliefs, and they "should be protected from all manner of violence and insults," Solis said.

"So what you see at Abu Ghraib clearly crosses the line," said Solis, a retired Marine Corps officer and Vietnam veteran.

Mike Ritz, a former Army interrogator who offers military-style courses and interrogation training for law enforcement for Team Delta, a Philadelphia-based firm, said some measure of humiliation, intimidation and deception was an integral part of interrogation intended to pry information from reluctant participants.

Good interrogators, Ritz said, are aware of everything they do, and their actions are carefully calculated. Since the Geneva Conventions are vague, they must weigh the ramifications of every action.

For example, he said, one picture showed a hooded prisoner standing on a box with wires attached to his hands who was told he'd be electrocuted. A more sophisticated interrogator would have taken the prisoner into a room with a battery and cables placed in a corner, clearly visible, Ritz said.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who recently took over the American military-prison system in Iraq after running the detention center at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, issued a statement Tuesday saying physical contact with prisoners, the use of hoods, placing prisoners in uncomfortable or "stress" positions and questioning them naked no longer would be tolerated.

Some of the abuse, especially that with homosexual overtones, the use of women in handling male prisoners and the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners, seemed to be an attempt to rob Arab men of their self-respect.


(Andrew Maykuth contributed to this story from Philadelphia.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20040504 USIRAQ convention


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