to Prison in Iraq
By DOUGLAS JEHL and ERIC SCHMITT
Army officials in Iraq responded late last year to a Red Cross report of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison by trying to curtail the international agency’s spot inspections of the prison, a senior Army officer who served in Iraq said Tuesday.
After the International Committee of the Red Cross observed abuses in one cellblock on two unannounced inspections in October and complained in writing on Nov. 6, the military responded that inspectors should make appointments before visiting the cellblock. That area was the site of the worst abuses.
The Red Cross report in November was the earliest formal evidence known to have been presented to the military’s headquarters in Baghdad before January, when photographs of the abuses came to the attention of criminal investigators and prompted a broad investigation. But the senior Army officer said the military did not start any criminal investigation before it replied to the Red Cross on Dec. 24.
The Red Cross report was made after its inspectors witnessed or heard about such practices as holding Iraqi prisoners naked in dark concrete cells for several days at a time and forcing them to wear women’s underwear on their heads while being paraded and photographed.
Until now, the Army had described its response on Dec. 24 as evidence that the military was prompt in addressing Red Cross complaints, but it has declined to release the contents of the Army document, citing the tradition of confidentiality in dealing with the international agency.
An Army spokesman declined Tuesday to characterize the letter or to discuss what it said about the Red Cross’s access to the cellblock.