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Context of 'May 14-mid-June 2004: About Half of Detainees Held in Abu Ghraib Are Released'

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The latest edition of the US Army’s Field Manual 34-52 is published, and it includes rules governing interrogations. It unequivocally states that binding international treaties and US policy “expressly prohibit acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation. Such illegal acts are not authorized and will not be condoned by the US Army.” It defines “physical torture” to include “infliction of pain through chemicals or bondage,” “forcing an individual to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods of time,” “food deprivation,” and “any form of beating.” It notes that the “use of torture by US personnel will bring discredit upon the US and its armed forces while undermining domestic and international support for the war effort. It also may place US and allied personnel in enemy hands at a greater risk of abuse by their captors.” These regulations will still be in effect after 9/11. (CBC News 11/16/2005)

In February 2004, a confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross says that “military intelligence officers told [us] that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.” Half or more of all prisoners in Iraq are held at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. This report echoes the conclusions of an unpublished US Army report by Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder given to Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top US commander in Iraq, on November 5, 2003 (see November 5, 2003). Ryder, the US Army’s provost marshal, reported that some Iraqis had been held for several months for nothing more than expressing “displeasure or ill will” towards US troops. And it said the process for deciding which arrested Iraqis posed security risks and which should be released violated the military’s own policies. It also complains that the continuing influx of new prisoners detained despite little evidence against them threatens to strain the prison system. Senior officers claim that Brig. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq, often ruled last against the release of prisoners, even vetoing the recommendations of a military police commander and military intelligence officers. (Jehl and Zernike 5/30/2004) Similarly, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who investigates abuses at Abu Ghraib prison around this time (see February 26, 2004), will later say very few prisoners there were affiliated with any terrorist group. Taguba saw classified documents revealing that there were only “one or two” suspected al-Qaeda prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Most of the detainees were not even connected to the Iraqi insurgency. (Hersh 6/17/2007) Despite this evidence, Pentagon spokesperson Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt will later claim, “If they were innocent, they wouldn’t be at Abu Ghraib.… The number that were released because they were innocent? That number… is zero. Persons are held at Abu Ghraib because they are determined to be security threats, imminent security threats here in [Iraq].” (Jehl and Zernike 5/30/2004)

On May 14, 2004, 293 prisoners are released from Abu Ghraib prison. (CNN 5/18/2004) Over the next weeks until mid-June, an estimated additional 1,680 prisoners are released from the prison. (Pound 6/21/2004) Prior to these mass releases, there were about 3,800 prisoners at Abu Ghraib. (CNN 5/18/2004)

The number of inmates at Abu Ghraib is estimated to be about 5,000. (Asser 8/4/2004)


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