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February 2004: Red Cross Says Up to 90 Percent of Detainees in Abu Ghraib Are Innocent of Any Crimes

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 This report echoes the conclusions of an unpublished US Army report by Maj.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. [New York Times, 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. [New Yorker, 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].” [New York Times, 5/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Donald J. Ryder, Barbara G. Fast, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Kimmitt, Ricardo S. Sanchez

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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