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Official in charge of Abu Ghraib interrogations testifies at hearing

FORT BRAGG, N.C.—Carolyn Wood, the elusive army intelligence captain in charge of interrogations at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, described Thursday the interrogation tactics used during a five-month period last year when detainees claimed to have been beaten, raped and sexually humiliated by interrogators, interpreters and military police officers.

Wood, who has been a mystery figure at the center of the torture scandal, testified at a special military hearing to determine whether Pfc. Lynndie England, 21, will face court-martial charges. The Army has accused England of joining half-a-dozen members of the 372nd military police company in abusing detainees on multiple occasions that they photographed.

England and the other soldiers facing possible courts-martial have said they were following orders from military interrogators who asked them to "soften up" detainees before questioning.

Speaking in public for the first time, Wood denied that military police officers would have been used in that way and said she was "shocked," "disappointed" and "outraged" by the digital photos.

A close relationship between military police and military intelligence was one of the key recommendations made by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was asked by Pentagon brass to review detention and interrogation operations in Iraq in early September.

In his report, Miller wrote that it was "essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation." Wood, who testified via telephone from the Army intelligence school in Fort Huachuca, said she spoke to Miller on three occasions and that he meant that military police, or MPs, should closely observe the detainees in order to determine who was most likely to be cooperative.

"The MPs were privy to some very valuable information," Wood said.

Wood, 34, commander of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, Company A, was assigned to Iraq after spending six months supervising interrogations at a U.S. military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan. While Wood was there, two detainees died during interrogation. The deaths were classified as "homicides" but the military has refused to release further information.

A spokesman for Fort Bragg said Wood brought the same interrogation techniques she used in Afghanistan to Iraq, but said Wood later argued to have the rules reviewed because the detainees in Iraq were protected by the Geneva Conventions, while many detainees in Afghanistan were not.

On Oct. 12, Major General Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. general in Iraq, issued new, more restrictive interrogation guidelines.

On Thursday, Wood explained she sought to clarify the rules of engagement for her 20 analysts and interrogators by creating a poster-sized, power-point slide.

Wood's slide was scrutinized during a Senate hearing last May after lawmakers questioned tactics such as the use of sleep management and sensory deprivation for three days at a time.

The senators also cited a February report by the International Committee of the Red Cross that criticized the Army for keeping detainees "stripped naked for several days while held in solitary confinement in an empty and completely dark cell."

Col. Mark Warren, Sanchez's legal adviser, told the Senate Committee on Armed Services that this regimen "was not representative of our counter-resistance and interrogation policy." Warren said Wood had included items "that could never be approved, that, frankly, could never reasonably be requested."

Wood defended the slide on Thursday and said non-standard techniques required Sanchez's personal approval.

Wood stressed that the rules for interrogation prohibited maliciously humiliating detainees or touching them in a "malicious or unwanted manner." Wood said she quickly responded to a handful of reports of abuse.

Wood's account was at odds with the Red Cross report, which singled out the military intelligence section of Abu Ghraib as a place where "methods of physical and psychological coercion used by interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information."

The accounts of three other witnesses who testified Thursday also contradicted Wood's account in part. Specialist Hannah Schlegel, one of Wood's interrogators, said prior to October, she saw naked detainees "all the time."

Special Agent Manora Iem, another interrogator, described how he came across a detainee who was handcuffed with his arms over his head. "His feet barely touched the ground," Iem said.

Spc. Israel Rivera, a member of the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, said two of his fellow soldiers forced three detainees who'd allegedly raped a juvenile to crawl on their stomachs across the floor in an effort to get them to "confess."


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