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Charges and Countercharges as Soldier Alleges Abuse

A California guardsman says he was hustled out of Iraq for speaking up. The Army says he has mental problems. The case has been reopened.

June 05, 2004|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

FOLSOM, Calif. — A California National Guard sergeant claims members of his military intelligence team in Iraq systematically beat and traumatized prisoners last summer in Samarra, north of Baghdad.

When he reported the alleged abuses to a superior, said Sgt. Greg Ford, a 30-year military reservist who works as a California state prison guard, he was hustled out of the country for psychological evaluations at military hospitals in Germany and the United States. In an interview, Ford, 49, described the tests as part of an Army "cover-up" of abuses.

Lt. Col. Timothy J. Ryan, the commander of Ford's unit -- the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion based in San Francisco -- said all allegations of prisoner abuse in Samarra "were investigated immediately, and no wrongdoing was ever found."

Ford's company commander, Capt. Vic Artiga, said the soldier was evacuated for "combat stress" behavioral problems.

The inquiry into Ford's allegations was reopened this spring as part of an overall reinvestigation of all prisoner abuse allegations from Iraq. The Pentagon ordered the review after the treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad became a scandal.

Ryan declined to discuss specifics of the case. He said 70 to 100 soldiers, including intelligence and civil affairs personnel, military police and special forces, were usually assigned to the police station in Samarra.

"I can tell you that only one person has filed any kind of complaint. I stand behind my soldiers 100%. I'm sure that when the review of this investigation is completed, they will find nothing wrong."

Lt. Col. Doug Hart, public affairs chief for the California National Guard, said the investigation into Ford's allegations, by the Army Criminal Investigation Division, was continuing.

Several fellow soldiers, including some who spoke on condition of anonymity, characterized Ford as an inveterate braggart who at various times had introduced himself as a medical doctor, a former Navy SEAL and a nobleman with a family castle in Europe. A doctor who examined Ford in Germany reported that Ford had been sent from Iraq because of "possible delusions of grandiosity about his background," according to a medical report provided by Ford.

The allegations of abuse, Ford's comrades said, came after Ford had been recommended for a Silver Star but had seen the recommendation withdrawn after questions were raised about his actions.

The recommendation for the medal came after a mortar attack on the Samarra position in June 2003. Ford claims he saved at least one comrade's life by using his scarf to tie a tourniquet on the bleeding soldier while holding an IV bag in his teeth.

According to the soldiers, subsequent interviews with medics and military police who were on the scene revealed that Ford might have exaggerated his role in helping the man.

Artiga said in an interview that he was "unable to find any witness that saw him doing anything that would have saved a soldier's life."

After the recommendation for the medal was withdrawn, Ford was ordered to undergo a series of psychological and psychiatric examinations.

Ford said the evaluations came after he reported the abuse of prisoners. He said he had seen an Army intelligence agent standing on the neck of an Iraqi youth and another agent using a rolled-up newspaper to beat an elderly detainee.

On four occasions, Ford said, he was called into an interrogation room to revive prisoners who had suffered "respiratory arrest" and were unconscious.

"I had to salvage them," said Ford, a former Coast Guard medical corpsman. He is studying to become a medical doctor through the Oceania University of Medicine, a correspondence school based in Western Samoa, he said.

"After the fourth child collapsed, I barely brought him back to life, and I could see the writing on the wall. My sources in the community told me Samarra was about to blow up and become another Fallouja. I requested to be relieved of my position," he said.

Ford, who does not speak Arabic, said he had extensive sources and contacts in the Samarra community, which were gained by riding along with military police on patrols and by "monitoring" the community from the roof of the three-story police station.

For the interview, Ford wore a polo shirt embroidered with the Oceania school crest. He said many friends in the military and law enforcement called him "Doc." His conversation was peppered with medical terms, and he referred repeatedly to his "long experience in medicine."

Artiga said Ford regularly introduced himself as a medical doctor. Ford denied that.

"I'm an N.D., not an M.D.," Ford said, producing a diploma from an Alabama institution, the Clayton School of Natural Healing (now the Clayton College of Natural Health), declaring him a "Doctor of Naturopathy."

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