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Prison Commander Testifies in Scandal

Military police captain says intelligence officers were present at death of Abu Ghraib inmate.

June 25, 2004|Richard Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The head of the military police company at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq testified Thursday that the facility's two top military intelligence officers were present when a detainee died during questioning and that one of them refused to shoulder all of the blame for the death, warning others that "I'm not going to go down alone for this."

Capt. Donald J. Reese, commander of the 372nd Military Police Company, also testified that an autopsy showed the Iraqi captive had died of a "blood clot from trauma" but that U.S. military authorities tried to hide the death from other detainees.

The testimony, providing vivid new details about one of the worst alleged abuses at the notorious prison outside Baghdad, suggests that military intelligence officers not only were aware of the widespread mistreatment but also carried out some of the abuse.

Details of Reese's testimony were contained in a media pool report.

Reese testified in Baghdad at a military preliminary hearing for Spc. Sabrina Harman, 26, an Army reservist who is one of six guards facing courts-martial in the Abu Ghraib scandal on charges of abusing prisoners. A seventh guard, Spc. Jeremy A. Sivits, pleaded guilty to mistreating inmates and was sentenced last month.

A widely distributed image of the corpse mentioned by Reese showed a soldier reportedly identified as Harman grinning alongside it.

Harman and the other five guards are contending that they acted at the behest of military intelligence officers. On Thursday, their company commander became the first high-level officer in their unit to publicly support their assertions.

Reese, who was admonished this year for failing to properly supervise his subordinates, testified that Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, personally directed that stepped-up tactics, including long bouts of sleep deprivation, be used against detainees to "soften" them up for interviews.

The orders "came from a full-bird colonel," Reese said. "As an MI person," he said of Pappas, "I believed he knew what he was doing."

Reese said that Pappas "wasn't around a lot" at the prison, but that his second-in-command, Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, "was always there." Describing how the prison was run, Reese said: "I controlled the MPs inside, but it was run by the MI folks. They had the ultimate say-so as to what went on there."

Pappas and Jordan have been reprimanded by Army superiors, and the Pentagon is investigating whether intelligence officers should be prosecuted.

Pappas has not commented publicly on the scandal. Jordan has reportedly told his superiors that he felt pressured to extract more information from detainees, especially after a White House national security aide toured the prison.

Reese testified that in late December, Navy SEALs brought a captive to the prison who was suspected of helping to launch an attack on the Baghdad headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Reese said he saw the inmate only after he had died in a shower room that was being used temporarily for interrogations.

"He was just [lying] on the floor. He died in the shower," Reese testified. "I was told that when they brought him in, he was combative, that they took him up to the room and during the interrogation he passed [away]."

Reese named Pappas and Jordan, along with a female major and "some OGA guys," as the ones who were conducting the interrogation when the man died. OGA, for "other government agency," is a common acronym for the CIA.

"I was told at that point it was a heart attack," he said. The body "was bleeding from the head, nose, mouth."

Reese said Jordan ordered another officer "to get some ice out of the chow hall" and to pack it around the corpse.

He said that he next heard Jordan and Pappas "talking about the situation" and that he noticed that "the OGA guys were visibly upset this had happened."

He said, "I heard Col. Pappas say, 'I'm not going to go down alone for this.' "

Reese said that the body was left locked in the shower overnight, and that the next day, an intravenous tube was attached to the corpse as it was taken away, apparently to make it appear that the man was still alive.

"I was told the reason they did that was they didn't want the other inmates to get upset he had passed [away] during the interrogation," Reese said.

He said an autopsy established the cause of death as a "blood clot from trauma."

Reese also said male detainees were given female underwear as "a humiliation thing ... and an MI thing." Some inmates were kept naked, he said.

Also testifying was Army Spc. Israel Rivera, a military intelligence officer. He said Cpl. Charles A. Graner Jr., the alleged abuse ringleader, often called naked detainees homosexuals and directed guards to drag them on the floor and make sure their genitalia scraped across the surface.

He said Harman was also "instigating it, giving the orders, telling them to keep going." He said of Harman: "At no time could I see any regret or fear."

The hearing continues today.

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