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Profile: Donald J. Ryder

Positions that Donald J. Ryder has held:

Donald J. Ryder was a participant or observer in the following events:

A team of FBI investigators headed by the FBI’s assistant director for counterterrorism, Thomas J. Harrington, visits Guantanamo prison. As he will later report to Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s provost marshal general, in a letter dated July 14, 2004 (see July 14, 2004), he and his team witness at least three cases of “highly aggressive interrogation techniques being used against detainees.” Abuse includes the use of a dog to intimidate a prisoner (who later shows symptoms of “extreme” psychological trauma); binding most of a detainee’s head in duct tape because he continued quoting from the Koran; and a female interrogator who bent back the thumbs of a prisoner and then grabbed his genitals. In one case, a prisoner was “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain.” (Alden 12/7/2004) Torin Nelson, an interrogator stationed at Guantanamo from August 2002 to February 2003, similarly notices an increase in the aggressiveness of interrogation methods in the weeks before he leaves. “When I first got there, things were much more above board. But there was a lot of pressure coming from above in the administration,” he later recalls. “They were very keen on getting results from the interrogations.” It is at this point that, according to him, techniques begin to enter “the grey area of abuse.” (Borger 12/1/2004) Criticism, vented within the FBI by a few of the federal agents who have been questioning prisoners at Guantanamo, also begins to arrive at the Pentagon. A senior intelligence official tells reporter Hersh: “I was told that the military guards were slapping prisoners, stripping them, pouring cold water over them, and making them stand until they got hypothermia. The agents were outraged. It was wrong and also dysfunctional.” The agents’ written complaints are sent to officials at the Pentagon, including Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes. (Hersh 9/13/2004) “In late 2002 and continuing into mid-2003,” according to a report by the FBI, “the [FBI’s] Behavioral Analysis Unit raised concerns over interrogation tactics being employed by the US Military” at Guantanamo. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 5/6/2004 pdf file)

In early October 2003, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez orders Maj. Gen. Marshal Donald Ryder to conduct a review of the prison system in Iraq and provide him with recommendations to improve it. (Higham, White, and Davenport 5/9/2004; Hersh 5/10/2004) Ryder, Provost Marshal General of the Army, starts the investigation on October 13. (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004)

Major General Marshal Donald Ryder files a report on the prison system in Iraq, as requested by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez earlier in the fall (see Late January 2004). He concludes that there are potential systemic human rights, training, and manpower issues that need immediate attention at Abu Ghraib. But he also says that he found “no military police units purposely applying inappropriate confinement practices.” (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004) Ryder suggests that the problem may stem from methods used in Afghanistan where MPs have worked with intelligence operatives to “set favorable conditions for subsequent interviews.” He recommends that military police no longer participate in military intelligence supervised interrogations. Guidelines need to be drawn up that “define the role of military police soldiers… clearly separating the actions of the guards from those of the military intelligence personnel,” he says. (Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) An investigation by Gen. Antonio M. Taguba completed next year (see March 9, 2004) will come to the same conclusion. “I concur fully with MG Ryder’s conclusion regarding the effect of AR 190-8. Military Police, though adept at passive collection of intelligence within a facility, should not participate in military intelligence supervised interrogation sessions. Moreover, Military Police should not be involved with setting ‘favorable conditions’ [emphasis by Taguba] for subsequent interviews. These actions… clearly run counter to the smooth operation of a detention facility.” (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004) Ryder does not appear to report on actual instances of prisoner abuse and downplays the gravity of the situation, saying it has not yet reached a crisis point. (Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) Ryder’s report also notes that a great number of people being held in the Iraq prison system appear to be innocent of any crime. It notes that some Iraqis have been held for several months for nothing more than expressing displeasure or ill will towards US troops (see February 2004).

Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba begins investigating abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. He is limited to investigating the 800th MP (military police) unit, as the abuse photographs mainly involve them. However, he suspects that superiors are to blame as well. He will later comment, “From what I knew, troops just don’t take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups.… These MP troops were not that creative. Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)

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)

The FBI’s Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Thomas J. Harrington, informs Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder, the Army’s Provost Marshal General, of incidents of abuse that a team of FBI investigators under his command witnessed at Guantanamo at the end of 2002 (see End of 2002). Harrington urges Ryder to take “appropriate action.” (Alden 12/7/2004)


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