WASHINGTON, May 17 — The American officer who was in charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison has told a senior Army investigator that intelligence officers sometimes instructed the military police to force Iraqi detainees to strip naked and to shackle them before questioning them. But he said those measures were not imposed “unless there is some good reason.”
The officer, Col. Thomas M. Pappas, commander of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, also told the investigator, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, that his unit had “no formal system in place” to monitor instructions they had given to military guards, who worked closely with interrogators to prepare detainees for interviews. Colonel Pappas said he “should have asked more questions, admittedly” about abuses committed or encouraged by his subordinates.
The statements by Colonel Pappas, contained in the transcript of a Feb. 11 interview that is part of General Taguba’s 6,000-page classified report, offer the highest-level confirmation so far that military intelligence soldiers directed military guards in preparing for interrogations. They also provide the first insights by the senior intelligence officer at the prison into the relationship between his troops and the military police. Portions of Colonel Pappas’s sworn statements were read to The New York Times by a government official who had read the transcript.
Testimony from guards and detainees at a preliminary hearing for a soldier accused of abuse said that orders from interrogators at Abu Ghraib had stopped short of the graphic abuse seen in the photographs at the center of the prison scandal.
The interrogation techniques Colonel Pappas described were used on detainees protected by the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit inhumane treatment of prisoners. Military officials said on Monday that the United States had months ago quietly abandoned an early plan to designate as unlawful combatants some of the prisoners captured by American forces in Iraq. No prisoners in Iraq were classified as unlawful combatants.
That means that even foreign fighters and suspected Al Qaeda members captured in Iraq, along with Iraqis captured as prisoners of war and insurgents, have remained protected by the Geneva Conventions.
The option of designating prisoners captured in Iraq as unlawful combatants “has not been foreclosed, but this is not under consideration,” a senior military official said.
The role of military intelligence officials and civilian contract interrogators at Abu Ghraib is still under investigation by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the deputy chief of Army intelligence.
Colonel Pappas confirmed in his statements that his unit had enacted several changes recommended by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, the head of detention operations at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, whom the Pentagon sent to Iraq in August and September to review detention operations.
A major finding of General Miller’s visit, Colonel Pappas said, was “to provide dedicated M.P.’s in support of interrogations.”
Several military police officers and their commanders at Abu Ghraib have said that military intelligence officers directed them to “set the conditions” to enhance the questioning. When General Taguba asked what safeguards existed to ensure that guards “understand the instructions or limits of instructions, or whether the instructions were legal,” Colonel Pappas acknowledged that there were no assurances.
“There would be no way for us to actually monitor whether that happened,” Colonel Pappas told General Taguba. “We had no formal system in place to do that.”
Colonel Pappas continued, “To my knowledge, instructions given to the M.P.’s, other than what I have mentioned, such as shackling, making detainees strip down or other measures used on detainees before interrogations, are not typically made unless there is some good reason.”
Individual interrogation plans were drafted for each detainee, and were approved by Colonel Pappas or his deputy, he said. In every case, he said, the plans followed the guidance in the rules of interrogation that Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top ground commander in Iraq, approved on Oct. 12.
In his report, General Taguba concluded that Colonel Pappas was “either directly or indirectly responsible” for the actions of those who mistreated and humiliated Iraqi prisoners.
Colonel Pappas is a 23-year Army veteran who began his military career after graduating in 1981 from Rutgers University, where he was part of the R.O.T.C. program. He took command of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade in July, after the unit had been in Iraq for more than three months, as part of the V Corps, which is based in Heidelberg, Germany.
Colonel Pappas has declined all interview requests, including one made on Monday through a spokesman for the Army’s V Corps in Germany.
In deciding not to invoke the unlawful combatant designation on any prisoners in Iraq, the Bush administration appears to have concluded that detention and interrogation procedures permitted under the Geneva Conventions were adequate even for suspected Al Qaeda members captured in Iraq. The conventions spell out protections that include monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The United States said at the outset of the war that no one captured in Iraq would be sent to the American prison at Guantánamo Bay that houses Al Qaeda suspects detained in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and none have been.
That new approach is a sharp reversal from the one that Pentagon officials described after the major phase of the war in Iraq ended last May. Then, American officers said that the thousands of prisoners in Iraq were being sorted to determine who among them should be labeled unlawful combatants. The Bush administration has applied that status to Al Qaeda members elsewhere and has used it to justify their indefinite detention at the American base at Guantánamo Bay under conditions not subject to the conventions.
Last May, Col. Karl Goetze, the staff judge advocate for occupation land forces in Iraq, said at a Pentagon briefing that the military intended to segregate “unlawful combatants” from Iraqi prisoners who should be treated as prisoners of war.
“Foreign fighters could fall into the category of unlawful combatants,” Colonel Goetze said. He said he expected that only a small percentage of the prisoners in Iraq would be designated “unlawful combatants,” but he said, “These are the individuals who raised up, took arms, not carrying them in an open manner, not wearing uniforms; in other words, engaging in tactics and techniques that were not in accordance with the law of armed combat.”
On Monday, however, a senior military officer said in an e-mail message that “no persons in Iraq have been declared unlawful combatants.” The Iraqi prisoners held in the American-run prison at Abu Ghraib have been labeled security detainees. In testimony addressing the scandal over the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners there, American officials have said that the Geneva accords are “fully applicable” to all prisoners held by the United States in Iraq.
Bush administration officials in Iraq have referred often to the presence of foreign fighters among those opposing American forces in Iraq, but American officials have never specified how many foreign fighters are being held captive by the United States. American officials have promised that all Iraqi prisoners would be kept in Iraq, but they have been less explicit about whether the same rules would apply to foreigners.
On Monday, a senior Defense Department official said that high-level Iraqi prisoners held at a site on the outskirts of the Baghdad airport were now being permitted up to three hours of time outside each day, more than the International Committee for the Red Cross observed and described in a February 2004 report.
In the February report, the Red Cross committee said that the estimated 100 prisoners at the site, designated as “high value detainees” by the United States, were being held in isolation for months at a time for as long as 23 hours a day without sunlight. The senior defense official said that representatives of the Red Cross committee had visited the site twice since February, and appeared satisfied with the way the prisoners, who include Tariq Aziz and other former advisers to Saddam Hussein, were being treated.
The Iraq Survey Group, along with another agency that the official would not name, is principally in charge of the interrogation of those prisoners, he said. But he said the rules for their detention and interrogation were set by the Central Command.