Scott Higham and colleagues at the Washington Post were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for their “relentless, unflinching chronicle” of alleged prisoner abuse perpetrated by American soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The story marked a major turning point in public opinion about the war.
The Washington Post – May 21, 2004
“New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge:
Abu Ghraib Detainees’ Statements Describe Sexual Humiliation And Savage Beatings”
By Scott Higham and Joe Stephens
Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.
The fresh allegations of prison abuse are contained in statements taken from 13 detainees shortly after a soldier reported the incidents to military investigators in mid-January. The detainees said they were savagely beaten and repeatedly humiliated sexually by American soldiers working on the night shift at Tier 1A in Abu Ghraib during the holy month of Ramadan, according to copies of the statements obtained by The Washington Post.
The statements provide the most detailed picture yet of what took place on the cellblock. Some of the detainees described being abused as punishment or discipline after they were caught fighting or with a prohibited item. Some said they were pressed to denounce Islam or were force-fed pork and liquor. Many provided graphic details of how they were sexually humiliated and assaulted, threatened with rape, and forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers.
“They forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees,” said Hiadar Sabar Abed Miktub al-Aboodi, detainee No. 13077. “And we had to bark like a dog, and if we didn’t do that they started hitting us hard on our face and chest with no mercy. After that, they took us to our cells, took the mattresses out and dropped water on the floor and they made us sleep on our stomachs on the floor with the bags on our head and they took pictures of everything.”
The prisoners also provided accounts of how some of the now-famous photographs were staged, including the pyramid of hooded, naked prisoners. Eight of the detainees identified by name one particular soldier at the center of the abuse investigation, Spec. Charles A. Graner Jr., a member of the 372nd Military Police Company from Cresaptown, Md. Five others described abuse at the hands of a solider who matches Graner’s description.
“They said we will make you wish to die and it will not happen,” said Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, detainee No. 151362. “They stripped me naked. One of them told me he would rape me. He drew a picture of a woman to my back and makes me stand in shameful position holding my buttocks.”
The Pentagon is investigating the allegations, a spokesman said last night.
“There are a number of lines of inquiry that are being taken with respect to allegations of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody,” Bryan Whitman said. “There is still more to know and to be learned and new things to be discovered.”
Threats of Death and Assault
The disclosures come from a new cache of documents, photographs and videos obtained by The Post that are part of evidence assembled by Army investigators putting together criminal cases against soldiers at Abu Ghraib. So far, seven MPs have been charged with brutalizing detainees at the prison, and one pleaded guilty Wednesday.
The sworn statements, taken in Baghdad between Jan. 16 and Jan. 21, span 65 pages. Each statement begins with a handwritten account in Arabic that is signed by the detainee, followed by a typewritten translation by U.S. military contractors. The shortest statement is a single paragraph; the longest exceeds two single-spaced typewritten pages.
While military investigators interviewed the detainees separately, many of them recalled the same event or pattern of events and procedures in Tier 1A — a block reserved for prisoners who were thought to possess intelligence that could help thwart the insurgency in Iraq, find Saddam Hussein or locate weapons of mass destruction. Military intelligence officers took over the cellblock last October and were using MPs to help “set the conditions” for interrogations, according to an investigative report complied by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. Several MPs have since said in statements and through their attorneys that they were roughing up detainees at the direction of U.S. military intelligence officers.
Most of the detainees said in the statements that they were stripped upon their arrival to Tier 1A, forced to wear women’s underwear, and repeatedly humiliated in front of one another and American soldiers. They also described beatings and threats of death and sexual assault if they did not cooperate with U.S. interrogators.
Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, detainee No. 151108, told investigators that when he first arrived at Abu Ghraib last year, he was forced to strip, put on a hood and wear rose-colored panties with flowers on them. “Most of the days I was wearing nothing else,” he said in his statement.
Hilas also said he witnessed an Army translator having sex with a boy at the prison. He said the boy was between 15 and 18 years old. Someone hung sheets to block the view, but Hilas said he heard the boy’s screams and climbed a door to get a better look. Hilas said he watched the assault and told investigators that it was documented by a female soldier taking pictures.
“The kid was hurting very bad,” Hilas said.
Hilas, like other detainees interviewed by the military, said he could not identify some of the soldiers because they either covered their name patches or did not wear uniforms. But he and other detainees did know the names of three, including Graner and Sgt. Javal S. Davis, both of whom have been charged and now face courts-martial. Some of the detainees described a short female MP with dark hair and a blond female MP of medium height who watched and took part in some of the abuses. Three female MPs have been charged in the case so far.
Hilas told investigators that he asked Graner for the time one day because he wanted to pray. He said Graner cuffed him to the bars of a cell window and left him there for close to five hours, his feet dangling off the floor. Hilas also said he watched as Graner and others sodomized a detainee with a phosphoric light. “They tied him to the bed,” Hilas said.
Graner’s attorney, Guy L. Womack, did not return phone messages yesterday. In previous interviews, he has said that his client was following the lead of military intelligence officers.
Mustafa Jassim Mustafa, detainee No. 150542, told military investigators he also witnessed the phosphoric-light assault. He said it was around the time of Ramadan, the holiest period of the Muslim year, when he heard screams coming from a cell below. Mustafa said he looked down to see a group of soldiers holding the detainee down and sodomizing him with the light.
Graner was sodomizing him with the phosphoric light, Mustafa said. The detainee “was screaming for help. There was another tall white man who was with Graner — he was helping him. There was also a white female soldier, short, she was taking pictures.”
Another detainee told military investigators that American soldiers sodomized and beat him. The detainee, whose name is being withheld by The Post because he is an alleged victim of a sexual assault, said he was kept naked for five days when he first arrived at Abu Ghraib and was forced to kneel for four hours with a hood over his head. He said he was beaten so badly one day that the hood flew off his head. “The police was telling me to crawl in Arabic, so I crawled on my stomach and the police were spitting on me when I was crawling, and hitting me on my back, my head and my feet,” he said in his sworn statement.
One day, the detainee said, American soldiers held him down and spread his legs as another soldier prepared to open his pants. “I started screaming,” he said. A soldier stepped on his head, he said, and someone broke a phosphoric light and spilled the chemicals on him.
“I was glowing and they were laughing,” he said.
The detainee said the soldiers eventually brought him to a room and sodomized him with a nightstick. “They were taking pictures of me during all these instances,” he told the investigators.
Mohanded Juma Juma, detainee No. 152307, said he was stripped and kept naked for six days when he arrived at Abu Ghraib. One day, he said, American soldiers brought a father and his son into the cellblock. He said the soldiers put hoods over their heads and removed their clothes.
Then, they removed the hoods.
“When the son saw his father naked he was crying,” Juma told the investigators. “He was crying because of seeing his father.”
He also said Graner repeatedly threw the detainees’ meals into the toilets and said, “Eat it.”
Hussein Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi, detainee No. 19446, told investigators that he was one of the hooded prisoners shown in photographs masturbating before American soldiers. “They told my friend to masturbate and told me to masturbate also, while they were taking pictures,” he said.
Al-Zayiadi also said he and other detainees were beaten and tossed into separate cells.
“They opened the water in the cell and told us to lay face down in the water and we stayed like that until the morning, in the water, naked, without clothes,” he said in his statement.
He also said soldiers forced him and others to perform like animals.
“Did the guards force you to crawl on your hands and knees on the ground?” a military investigator asked.
“Yes, they forced us to do this thing,” Al-Zayiadi said.
“What were the guards doing while you were crawling on your hands and knees?”
“They were sitting on our backs like riding animals,” Al-Zayiadi said.
He said the guards took pictures of the incident.
Al-Zayiadi also described what has become one of the iconic photographs in the prison abuse scandal.
“They brought my friends, Haidar, Ahmed, Nouri, Ahzem, Hashiem, Mustafa, and I, and they put us two on the bottom, two on top of them, and two on top of those and one on top,” he said. “They took pictures of us and we were naked.”
Another publicized photograph — that of a hooded detainee hooked up to wires and standing on a box — is also described in the statements.
“On the third day, after five o’clock, Mr. Graner came and took me to room Number 37, which is the shower room, and he started punishing me,” said Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh, detainee No. 18170. “Then he brought a box of food and he made me stand on it with no clothing, except a blanket. Then a tall black soldier came and put electrical wires on my fingers and toes and on my penis, and I had a bag over my head.”
Al-Sheik said he was arrested on Oct. 7, and brought to Abu Ghraib, where he was put in a tent for one night. The next day, he was transferred to the “hard site,” the two-story building that held about 200 prisoners and contained Tiers 1A and 1B.
He said a bag was put over his head and he was made to strip. He said American soldiers started to taunt him.
“Do you pray to Allah?” one asked. “I said yes. They said, ‘[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.’ One of them said, ‘You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, ‘Are you married?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ They said, ‘If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.’ One of them said, ‘But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.’ “
He said the soldiers told him that if he cooperated with interrogators they would release him in time for Ramadan. He said he did, but still was not released. He said one soldier continued to abuse him by striking his broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam. “Because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion,” he said. “They ordered me to thank Jesus that I’m alive.”
The detainee said the soldiers handcuffed him to a bed.
“Do you believe in anything?” he said the soldier asked. “I said to him, ‘I believe in Allah.’ So he said, “But I believe in torture and I will torture you.’”