WASHINGTON—The CIA had dozens of Iraqi "ghost detainees" secretly held at Abu Ghraib prison—a number far higher than previously disclosed—so they could be hidden from Red Cross monitors, Army investigators said on Thursday.
Gen. Paul J. Kern and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay said they asked repeatedly for information on the detainees during investigations into the abuse of inmates at the Army-run facility outside Baghdad, but the CIA refused to answer.
That angered Senate Armed Services Committee members, who pledged to press the agency for the information and to look more closely themselves at the issue.
"The situation with the CIA and ghost soldiers is beginning to look like a bad movie," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict who was mistreated by the North Vietnamese. "This needs to be cleared up rather badly."
What roles CIA officers might have played in abuses of inmates at Abu Ghraib remains a major question following eight high-level investigations into the treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman, declined comment, saying that the agency's inspector general is conducting his own probe into the CIA handling of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An Army investigation in April by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba criticized the practice of intentionally hiding prisoners from the Red Cross because it contradicts U.S. military policy and international obligations under the Geneva Conventions. U.S. soldiers are required to record prisoners' names as they are detained and then give them access to the Red Cross, which monitors the treatment of prisoners of war.
Senior Army investigators and former secretaries of defense James Schlesinger and Harold Brown spent the day testifying in hearings before the House and Senate armed services committees on their separate probes into detainee abuses.
The probes found that responsibility for the problems extended beyond individuals at Abu Ghraib to the military chain of command and the office of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
The investigations were launched after disclosures that U.S. troops last year mistreated and sexually abused detainees at Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison where thousands of Iraqis were tortured and executed by the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The disclosures ignited worldwide outrage, especially in the Muslim world, and hurt U.S. efforts to gather intelligence on the anti-American insurgency that erupted across Iraq following last year's invasion.
Previously, the CIA was known to have had eight unregistered detainees at Abu Ghraib.
Kern said their registrations were delayed under a provision of the 4th Geneva Convention designed to protect military security. The 4th Geneva Convention governs the treatment of civilians during wartime.
"We also found many reports for which we cannot document for you because the documentation does not exist for people who were brought into the facilities and who were moved so that they could not be identified by the International Red Cross," said Kern. "This is in violation of our policy which requires us to register people so that it can be reported that they are being held in detention."
Pressed by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, on the number of such cases, Kern replied: "We believe ... that the number is in the dozens to perhaps up to 100. I cannot give you a precise number."
Fay, who also investigated military intelligence personnel at Abu Ghraib, said that he did not believe the number was as high as 100 but could be "maybe two dozen or so, maybe more."
While it remains unknown whether CIA officers participated in abuses at Abu Ghraib, military investigations have determined that allowing the agency to keep and interrogate detainees there contributed to a "loss of accountability and abuse."
"Local CIA officers convinced military leaders that they should be allowed to operate outside the local established rules and procedures. CIA detainees in Abu Ghraib ... were not accounted for in the detention system," said Fay's report. "Detention operations at large were impacted because (Army) personnel at the operations level were uncertain how to report or classify detainees."
Schlesinger and Brown, who reviewed all of the Pentagon's detention operations, also received pointed questions about the ghost detainee issue.
Schlesinger, who led the review, told the House committee that there were "authorized procedures of this and past administrations" that permitted the holding of ghost detainees. But he declined to elaborate.
He and Brown reiterated their findings that the Bush administration shared some responsibility for the abuses because of the Pentagon's failure to anticipate the anti-U.S. insurgency and provide sufficient manpower to cope with the thousands of detainees it produced. But the pair said Rumsfeld should not have to resign.
Schlesinger said Rumsfeld "was let down by his staff," who failed to clear up confusion over interrogation policies.
"I find your testimony unacceptable," bellowed Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii. "How is it possible that the consequences (for the abuses) do not reach up to the secretary of defense?"
(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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