The Damning Red Cross ReportThis is excerpted from the "Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Persons Protected by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq, During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation." Some subheads have been added.
of February 2004
In its "Report on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and other protected persons in Iraq," the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) draws the attention of the Coalition Forces (hereafter called "the CF") to a number of serious violations of International Humanitarian Law. These violations have been documented and sometimes observed while visiting prisoners of war, civilian internees and other protected persons by the Geneva Conventions (hereafter called persons deprived of their liberty, when their status is not specifically mentioned) in Iraq between March and November 2003. During its visits to places of internment of the CF, the ICRC collected allegations during private interviews with persons deprived of their liberty relating to the treatment by the CF of protected persons during their capture, arrest, transfer, internment and interrogation.
The main violations, which are described in the ICRC report and presented confidentially to the CF, include:
- Brutality against protected persons upon capture and initial custody, sometimes causing death or serious injury;
- Absence of notification of arrest of persons deprived of their liberty to their families causing distress among persons deprived of their liberty and their families;
- Physical or psychological coercion during interrogation to secure information;
- Prolonged solitary confinement in cells devoid of daylight;
- Excessive and disproportionate use of force against persons deprived of their liberty resulting in death or injury during their period of internment....
According to the allegations collected by the ICRC, ill-treatment during interrogation was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested in connection with suspected security offences or deemed to have an "intelligence" value [emphasis added].
- In these cases, persons deprived of their liberty under supervision of the Military Intelligence were at high risk of being subjected to a variety of harsh treatments ranging from insults, threats and humiliations to both physical and psychological coercion, which in some cases was tantamount to torture, in order to force cooperation with their interrogators....
In the case of "High Value Detainees" held in Baghdad International Airport, their continued internment, several months after their arrest, in strict solitary confinement in cells devoid of sunlight for nearly 23 hours a day constituted a serious violation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions.
The ICRC was also concerned about the excessive and disproportionate use of force by some detaining authorities against persons deprived of their liberty, involved during their internment during periods of unrest or escape attempts that caused death and serious injuries. The use of firearms against persons deprived of their liberty in circumstances where methods without using firearms could have yielded the same result, could amount to a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law....
Coalition Authority Told
Since the beginning of the conflict, the ICRC has regularly brought its concerns to the attention of the CF. The observations in the present report are consistent with those made earlier on several occasions orally and in writing to the CF throughout 2003. In spite of some improvements in the material conditions of internment, allegations of ill-treatment perpetrated by members of the CF against persons deprived of their liberty continued to be collected by the ICRC and thus suggested that the use of ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered as a practice tolerated by the CF.
The ICRC report does not aim to be exhaustive with regard to breaches of International Humanitarian Law by the CF in Iraq. Rather, it illustrates priority areas that warrant attention and corrective action on the part of CF, in compliance with their International Humanitarian Law obligatioins.
Consequently the ICRC asks the authorities of the CF in Iraq:
- to respect at all times the human dignity, physical integrity and cultural sensitivity of the persons deprived of their liberty held under their control;
- to set up a system of notifications of arrest to ensure quick and accurate transmission of information to the families of persons deprived of their liberty;
- to prevent all forms of ill-treatment, moral or physical coercion of persons deprived of their liberty in relation to interrogation;
- to set up an internment regime which ensures the respect of the psychological integrity and human dignity of the persons deprived of their liberty
- to ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty are allowed sufficient time every day outside in the sunlight, and that they are allowed to move and exercise in the outside yard;
- to define and apply regulations and sanctions compatible with International Humanitarian Law, and to ensure that persons deprived of their liberty are fully informed upon arrival about such regulations and sanctions;
- to thoroughly ivestigate violations of International Humanitarian Law in order to determine responsibilities and prosecute those found responsible for violations of International Humanitarian Law.
- to ensure that battle group units arresting individuals and staff in charge of internment facilities receive adequate training enabling them to operate in a proper manner and fulfill their responsibilities as arresting authority without resorting to ill-treatment or making excessive use of force....
3. Treatment During Interrogation
24: Arrests were usually followed by temporary internment at battle group level or at initial interrogation facilities managed by military intelligence personnel, but accessible to other intelligence personnel (especially in the case of security detainees). The ill-treatment by the CF personnel during interrogation was not systematic, except with regard to persons arrested in connection with suspected security offences or deemed to have an "intelligence" value. In these cases, persons deprived of their liberty supervised by the military intelligence were subjected to a variety of ill-treatment, ranging from insults and humiliation to both physical and psychological coercion that in some cases might amount to torture, in order to force them to cooperate with their interrogators. In certain cases, such as in Abu Ghraib military intelligence section, methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information. Several military intelligence officers confirmed to the ICRC that it was part of the military intelligence process to hold a person deprived of his liberty naked, in a completely dark and empty cell for a prolonged period, to use inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical and psychological coercion, against persons deprived of their liberty, to secure their cooperation.
3.1 Methods of Treatment
25: The methods of ill-treatment most frequently alleged during interrogation included:
- Hooding, used to prevent people from seeing and to disorient them, and also to prevent them from breathing freely. One or sometimes two bags, sometimes with an elastic blindfold over the eyes which, when slipped down, further impeded proper breathing. Hooding was sometimes used in conjunction with beatings, thus increasing anxiety as to when blows would come. The practice of hooding also allowed the interrogators to remain anonymous and thus to act with impunity. Hooding could last for periods from a few hours to up to 2 to 4 consecutive days, during which hoods were lifted only for drinking, eating or going to the toilets;
- Handcuffing with flexi-cuffs, which were sometimes made so tight and used for such extended periods that they caused skin lesions and long-term after-effects on the hands (nerve damage), as observed by the ICRC;
- Beatings with hard objects (including pistols and rifles), slapping, punching, kicking with knees or feet on various parts of the body (legs, sides, loer back, groin);
- Pressing the face into the ground with boots;
- Threats (of ill-treatment, reprisals against family members, imminent execution or transfer to Guantanamo);
- Being stripped naked for several days while held in solitary confinement in an empty and completely dark cell that included a latrine.
- Being held in solitary confinement combined with threats (to intern the individual indefinitely, to arrest other family members, to transfer the individual to Guantanamo), insufficient sleep, food or water deprivation, minimal access to showers (twice a week), denial of access to open air, and prohibition of contacts with other persons deprived of their liberty;
- Being paraded naked outside cells in front of other persons deprived of their liberty, and guards, sometimes hooded or with women's underwear over the head;
- Acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the head for prolonged periods—while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position;
- Being attached repeatedly over several days, for several hours each time, with handcuffs to the bars of their cell door in humiliating (i.e. naked or in underwear) and/or uncomfortable position causing physical pain;
- Exposure while hooded to loud noise or music, prolonged exposure while hooded to the sun over several hours, including the hottest time of the day when temperatures could reach 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher;
- Being forced to remain for prolonged periods in stress positions such as squatting or standing with or without the arms lifted.
26: These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information or other forms of co-operation from persons who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offences or were deemed to have an "intelligence value."
3.2 Military Intelligence Section, "Abu Ghraib Correctional Facility"
27: In mid-October 2003, the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) visited persons deprived of their liberty undergoing interrogation by military intelligence officers in Unit 1A, the "isolation section" of "Abu Ghraib" Correctional Facility. Most of these persons deprived of their liberty had been arrested in early October. During the visit, ICRC delegates directly witnessed and documented a variety of methods used to secure the cooperation of the persons deprived of their liberty with their interrogators. In particular they witnessed the practice of keeping persons deprived of their liberty completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness, allegedly for several consecutive days. Upon witnessing such cases, the ICRC interrupted its visits and requested an explanation from the authorities. The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was "part of the process...."
The ICRC documented other forms of ill-treatment, usually combined with those described above, including threats, insults, verbal violence, sleep deprivation caused by the playing of loud music or constant light in cells devoid of windows, light handcuffing with flexi-cuffs causing lesions and wounds around the wrists. Punishment included being made to walk in the corridors handcuffed and naked, or with women's underwear on the head, or being handcuffed either dressed or naked to the bed bars or the cell door. Some persons deprived of their liberty preented physical marks and psychological symptoms, which were compatible with these allegations.
The ICRC medical delegate examined persons deprived of their liberty presenting signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behaviour and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms appeared to have been caused by the methods and duration of interrogation. One person held in isolation that the ICRC examined, was unresponsive to verbal and painful stimuli. His heart rate was 120 beats per minute and his respiratory rate 18 per minute. He was diagnosed as suffering from somatoform (mental) disorder, specifically a conversion disorder, most likely due to the ill-treatment he was subjected to during interrogation.
According to the allegations collected by the ICRC, detaining authorities also continued to keep persons deprived of their liberty during the period of interrogation uninformed of the reason for their arrest. They were often questioned without knowing what they were accused of. They were not allowed to ask questions and were not provided with an opportunity to seek clarification about the reason for their arrest. Their treatment tended to vary according to their degree of cooperation with their interrogators: those who cooperated were afforded preferential treatment such as being allowed contacts with other persons deprived of their liberty, being allowed to phone their families, being given clothes, bedding equipment, food, water or cigarettes, being allowed access to showers, being held in a lit cell, etc.