Report: Detainee Abuse Is "Standard Operating Procedure," Say Soldiers

Despite the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the torture and abuse of Iraqi detainees in U.S. custody has continued, according to a new report released over the weekend by Human Rights Watch.

Soldiers told HRW that in direct violation of international law, detainees at one camp "were regularly stripped naked and subjected to beatings, forced exercises, severe sleep deprivation and various forms of degrading and humiliating treatment."

The report describes alleged abuses at three different detention facilities in Iraq between 2003 and 2005. These abuses, the reports says, were authorized and routine.

One soldier at Camp Nama told HRW how interrogators would go about getting permission to use harsh tactics.

"There was an authorization template on a computer," he said. "And it was a checklist. And it was all already typed out for you, environmental controls, hot and cold, you know, strobe lights, music, so forth…But you would just check what you want to use off, and if you planned on using a harsh interrogation you'd just get it signed off." That soldier told HRW he never saw a sheet that wasn't signed.

The report also states that soldiers who felt that these practices were wrong and illegal "faced significant obstacles at every turn when they attempted to report or expose the abuses."

One soldier, who was stationed at Forward Operating Base Tiger near al Qaim, told HRW that some of the soldiers were troubled by the what they saw there, but that it was difficult to complain.

"I asked a few questions and stuff like that," he said, "and it was pretty much kind of 'shut up' or 'drop it now.'"

"Soldiers were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and that interrogators could use abusive techniques to get detainees to talk," said John Sifton of HRW. "These accounts rebut U.S. government claims that torture and abuse in Iraq was unauthorized and exceptional. On the contrary, it was condoned and commonly used."

The Department of Defense said today that it has never had a policy condoning, encouraging or approving of abuse.

"Humane treatment is and always has been the standard for treatment of detainees in DoD policy," said Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, a spokesman for the department.

He added that while there have been cases where some service members have not followed policy, those cases have been investigated, and those people have been held accountable.

Among the report's recommendations is that Congress appoint an independent commission to identify the officials that authorized abuse.

"It is now clear that leaders were responsible for abuses that occurred in Iraq," said Sifton. "It's time for them to be held accountable."

Read the full Human Rights Watch Report, "No Blood, No Foul."

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