Abu Ghraib torture 'was approved at senior military level'

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The Independent US

Compelling new evidence emerged yesterday that torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison were either endorsed or encouraged high up the US military chain of command, and that complaints by at least five military policemen assigned to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation were disregarded by their superiors for several months.

Compelling new evidence emerged yesterday that torture techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison were either endorsed or encouraged high up the US military chain of command, and that complaints by at least five military policemen assigned to "soften up" prisoners for interrogation were disregarded by their superiors for several months.

Army documents obtained by the Associated Press showed that the five objected to what they were asked to do last autumn, but that the noncommissioned officers they reported to did nothing to stop the beatings, sexual humiliation and brutal intimidation techniques practised in Abu Ghraib's Tier 1/A.

The Army documents seen by the Associated Press - mostly transcripts of the military court hearings held so far - showed one soldier at Abu Ghraib complaining last November that the sight of prisoners being forced to masturbate and being stacked naked into human pyramids "made me sick to my stomach".

One lawyer representing Lynndie England, the most prominent of the accused soldiers, said in court: "It's telling that another person ... did complain to their superior officer and was told, 'There's nothing wrong. You have to go forward.'"

One of the junior officers who received complaints, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, is among the six soldiers now being court-martialled for physical abuse inflicted on Iraqi prisoners.

Yesterday's Washington Post, meanwhile, disclosed that the commander of US forces in Iraq, General Ricardo Sanchez, had passed a policy document last September that approved the use of military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation and near-starvation diets.

General Sanchez, who announced that he was stepping down from his post soon after the scandal erupted in April, stipulated in the document he signed that such techniques (known in US military circles as "stress and duress", as opposed to torture) could be applied at will without approval from anyone outside Abu Ghraib prison.

The document - based on a similar list of techniques in use at Guantanamo Bay - was modified a month later after objections from US Central Command, the Post reported, with some of the 32 duress techniques dropped or subjected to approval higher up the system.

Subsequent events make clear that, whatever the policy, the system was lax enough for serious abuses - up to and including the killing of prisoners - to continue for several months. Considerable evidence has already emerged that that laxity was prompted from the very top of the Bush administration, following legal determinations by White House lawyers that the "war on terrorism" justified disregarding the Geneva Conventions and other articles of international law on the treatment of prisoners.

Even after General Sanchez's list of interrogation techniques was modified, it still included such items as taking prisoners to a "less hospitable" location, restricting their diet, isolating them for more than 30 days, using dogs to intimidate them, and forcing them into "stress positions" for as long as 45 minutes.

Human rights organisations have said many of these provisions are direct violations of the Geneva Conventions and may well meet the formal definition of torture.

The administration, meanwhile, insists that the abuses were the result of unauthorised behaviour by a few "bad apples" and do not reflect broader policy.

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