WASHINGTON – The CIA had dozens of Iraqi “ghost detainees” secretly held at Abu Ghraib prison – a number far higher than previously disclosed – so they could be hidden from Red Cross monitors, Army investigators said on Thursday.
Gen. Paul J. Kern and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay said they asked repeatedly for information on the detainees during investigations into the abuse of inmates at the Army-run facility outside Baghdad, but the CIA refused to answer.
That angered Senate Armed Services Committee members, who pledged to press the agency for the information and to look more closely themselves at the issue.
“The situation with the CIA and ghost soldiers is beginning to look like a bad movie,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war during the Vietnam conflict who was mistreated by the North Vietnamese. “This needs to be cleared up rather badly.”
What roles CIA officers might have played in abuses of inmates at Abu Ghraib remains a major question following eight high-level investigations into the treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Mark Mansfield, a CIA spokesman, declined comment, saying that the agency’s inspector general is conducting his own probe into the CIA handling of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An Army investigation in April by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba criticized the practice of intentionally hiding prisoners from the Red Cross because it contradicts U.S. military policy and international obligations under the Geneva Conventions. U.S. soldiers are required to record prisoners’ names as they are detained and then give them access to the Red Cross, which monitors the treatment of prisoners of war.
Senior Army investigators and former secretaries of defense James Schlesinger and Harold Brown spent the day testifying in hearings before the House and Senate armed services committees on their separate probes into detainee abuses.
The probes found that responsibility for the problems extended beyond individuals at Abu Ghraib to the military chain of command and the office of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The investigations were launched after disclosures that U.S. troops last year mistreated and sexually abused detainees at Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison where thousands of Iraqis were tortured and executed by the regime of Saddam Hussein.
The disclosures ignited worldwide outrage, especially in the Muslim world, and hurt U.S. efforts to gather intelligence on the anti-American insurgency that erupted across Iraq following last year’s invasion.
Previously, the CIA was known to have had eight unregistered detainees at Abu Ghraib.
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