US troops ordered not to investigate Iraqi torture

United States troops were told not to investigate allegations of torture by Iraqi security forces, according to documents found in the war logs.

A comprehensive trawl of the secret military files show that US soldiers witnessed, or were told of, more than 1,300 cases of detainee abuse by Iraqi authorities. But following the Abu Ghraib scandal of 2004, they were given explicit orders not to investigate unless coalition personnel were involved.

The logs reveal that more than 180,000 people were detained in Iraq between 2004 and 2009. This is equivalent to one in 50 of the male population. In comparison, the number of people detained in Afghanistan, which has a similar population, was 7,500.

Most of those detained in Iraq detentions were in state-run centres.

Graphic: Detentions in Iraq

An Iraqi detainee - Zoriah/Flickr
An Iraqi detainee – Zoriah/Flickr

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found 1,365 reports of alleged torture in Iraqi police stations, prisons and army bases which were logged between May 2005 and December 2009. The alleged brutality was reminiscent of the worst excesses of Saddam Hussein’s regime. They describe men and women blindfolded, beaten with cables, their genitals electrocuted, fingernails ripped out, sodomised with bottles and hoses.

And yet within the secret files are two orders which tell ground force troops not to investigate these allegations of abuse.

Related article: Torture widespread in Iraqi detention facilities

Both orders were issued after events at Abu Ghraib in April 2004. The first reference to FRAGO 242, appears in the logs on June 26 2004.

June 26 2004
Provided the initial report confirms US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted unless directed by HHQ.

The second order, FRAGO 039, issued in April 2005 did require US personnel to report Iraqi on Iraqi abuse, but to take no further action unless ordered..

Iraqi on Iraqi (no US forces personnel were involved) note: MNCI FRAGO 039 DTD 29 April 2005 has modified FRAGO 242 and now requires reports of Iraqi on Iraqi abuse be reported through operational channels.

It is unclear from the files what happened to the reports of detainee abuse once they had been sent up the chain of command. There are indications that some may have been investigated, but it is not known whether this was by the US or if the files were handed over to the appropriate Iraqi authorities.

Graphic: detainee abuse in Iraq

In 21 of the reported cases of alleged abuse by Iraqi personnel the war logs state that “as no Coalition forces were involved in the alleged abuse, no further investigation is necessary”.

According to Amnesty International no Iraqi personnel have received a custodial sentence in relation to allegations of detainee abuse.

Malcolm Smart, director of the charity’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, told the Bureau: “The US, as other governments, have a responsibility to act against torture. And if information about torture, including not by their own forces, comes to their attention, then they need to do something about it.”

Origin of the fragmentary orders
The FRAGO (Fragmentary orders) commands appear to originate from an initial order signed by the Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq at the time, General Ricardo Sanchez, on June 16 2004.

Related article: US detention inspections failed to identify systemic abuse

“If information about torture, including not by their own (US) forces, comes to their attention, then they need to do something about it.”
Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International

The US Government has consistently played down allegations of torture by Iraqi forces. US troops inspected Iraqi prisons on six occasions between December 8 2005 and March 22 2006. A coalition spokesman told reporters: “The facilities were, by our standards, overcrowded, but the people being held at those facilities were being properly taken care of; they were being fed, they had water, they were taken care of. So no abuse, no evidence of torture in those facilities.”

In the same period the files detail 76 cases of alleged abuse by Iraqi personnel, all reported up the chain of command by US forces. These cases do not relate to the specific sites of the coalition inspections, but they prove the US knew that torture was still prevalent.

The logs cite allegations of serious cases of abuse by Iraqi personnel up until late 2009.

Related article: Obama administration handed over detainees despite reports of torture