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Pentagon: Iraqi held secretly at CIA request

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

Red Cross
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An Iraqi prisoner was held at a secret prison near Baghdad for about nine months, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last October ordered the high-value Iraqi prisoner held in secret at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, Pentagon officials disclosed.

But the officials insist their motivation was to protect U.S. troops, not hide the prisoner from the Red Cross, and that his so-called secret status was supposed to be temporary.

Some soldiers dubbed the prisoner "Triple X."

Officials say the Pentagon was asked by the CIA to take custody of the prisoner and to hold him incognito because he had been involved in ongoing military operations against the United States and the disclosure of his capture would compromise his intelligence value.

The prisoner was not assigned a number, nor was his presence disclosed to the International Committee of the Red Cross, but officials say his secret status was supposed to be temporary and deny he was a "ghost detainee."

A senior defense official admitted that both the CIA and the Pentagon "dropped the ball" by failing to review his status for more than eight months despite two requests by low-level military personnel to reclassify the prisoner, and integrate him into the general prison population.

Pentagon officials deny they were trying to hide the prisoner from the Red Cross, but concede he was classified as a type of enemy combatant that, under the Geneva Conventions, does not have to be immediately disclosed to the Red Cross.

The prisoner has been identified only as a "high official" and "paramilitary leader" of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group and remains at the U.S.-run "Camp Cropper" detention facility.

The Pentagon said after a third request -- the latest one by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller -- the prisoner is in the process of being reclassified assigned internee security number.

"It was assumed the CIA would want him back at some point," an official told CNN, but the official said while the prisoner was questioned by military interrogators, he was never interrogated again by the CIA.

Pentagon officials insist that the prisoner "Triple X" was never held at the Abu Ghraib prison, where an Army investigator found that some detainees were hidden from Red Cross inspectors.

In Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba's report on prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, he criticized the 800th Military Police Brigade for allowing "other government agencies" -- a euphemism that includes the CIA -- to hide "ghost" detainees at Abu Ghraib.

"They moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross," Taguba wrote, calling the practice "deceptive, contrary to Army doctrine, and in violation of international law."

The Pentagon says the prisoner known as Triple X was never given the status that would entitle him to Red Cross visits.

Pentagon officials said while it was Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, who issued the order to hold the prisoner in secret detention, he was only carrying orders from Rumsfeld, who in turn was acting at the behest of the CIA.

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