FT. BRAGG, N.C. — As investigations into the abuse of prisoners at U.S. detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, one indication of the ambiguity surrounding the issue is that an obscure captain in Army intelligence has become a potentially pivotal figure even though she's not accused of wrongdoing.
The officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, created a widely discussed PowerPoint chart at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison that spelled out what kinds of interrogation tactics were permitted under Army rules and what methods required special approval.
But what is expected to make Wood, 34, a crucial witness for investigators is that her unique assignment at the sprawling facility last year put her, in the words of one colleague, "at the narrow center of the hourglass, receiving information from above and from below" in the prison chain of command.
As a result, Wood may shed light on central questions in the wide-ranging inquiry: Did the decisions of senior commanders who wanted to increase the flow of intelligence from detainees play a role in the abuses? What interrogation techniques were approved? And who was responsible for ensuring that soldiers at military prisons followed the rules?
Last month, a report by the Army inspector-general documented almost 100 cases of detainee abuse and wrongful death in U.S. detention facilities but called them "aberrations" committed by a few inadequately supervised troops. The report was met with skepticism by senators who didn't think it delved deeply enough.
Wood began her career as a 20-year-old private, had no direct role in interrogating detainees, according to friends and colleagues. But her administrative job as reports officer put her in a unique position to monitor and shepherd the transmission of intelligence at the interrogation center.
Sitting at a makeshift desk in a dilapidated building on the prison grounds, Wood was a conduit for day-to-day information collection, sending and receiving e-mail on a laptop computer. Friends and colleagues say she oversaw the production and distribution of intelligence reports from interrogations.
"She would disseminate information, taking it from lower levels and then sending it up the chain of command, and then back down," said a friend of the captain's who was familiar with prison operations.
Wood's chart, which was posted inside the prison, listed approved interrogation techniques from an Army field manual in one column and more coercive methods requiring commanders' approval in the second column. It became a sort of icon of the Abu Ghraib scandal.
The appearance of Wood's chart, titled "Interrogation Rules of Engagement," during a Senate hearing May 19 seemed to surprise Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the top U.S. commander in Iraq. He testified that he had never seen the chart, hadn't approved it and had no idea who had created it.
Wood apparently prepared the chart on her own initiative in late summer 2003, when there were no clear written guidelines beyond the standard Army field manual. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib, where Wood was the reports officer in charge, was not formally established until Sept. 20.
The chart was posted in the interrogation center before Sanchez issued his first written regulations. Sanchez and other senior commanders have debated senators over whether Wood's compilation was approved by superiors and whether it contradicted Sanchez's rules.
There is no direct evidence that Wood, who left Iraq in February and was stationed at Ft. Bragg until May, was involved in or condoned abuses. In fact, her preparation of the chart suggests that she understood the disjointed state of command at Abu Ghraib, which Sanchez has called "dysfunctional."
The prison had one military police officer for every 8 1/2 detainees, compared with one MP per two detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Wood brought to Abu Ghraib a background as an intelligence officer at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, where interrogation techniques generally are harsher than those used in Iraq. That experience, coupled with her central role in Abu Ghraib and her training in "tactical exploitation" of intelligence, have made Wood an important source of information for investigators.
Friends and colleagues, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the Army has ordered soldiers not to discuss her, described Wood as an efficient workaholic who had a knack for organization and neatness.
"She's the type of person who would take it upon herself to try to organize a confusing situation by putting together that chart the way she did," a friend said.
An interrogator who worked with Wood in Afghanistan said she provided file boxes for her colleagues to reduce office clutter. "She was very organizational," he said. "She got tired of people's stuff all over the place."