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Red Cross: Treatment of Iraqis 'tantamount to torture'

Many detainees arrested by mistake, report says


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(CNN) -- Iraqi detainees considered likely intelligence sources faced coercion that in some cases was "tantamount to torture," a Red Cross report concluded in February.

The report also said that up to 90 percent of Iraqis held by U.S. and allied troops have been arrested by mistake.

"In certain cases, such as in Abu Ghraib military intelligence section, methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information," observers from the International Committee of the Red Cross found.

Intelligence officers told the ICRC that it was standard procedure to subject prisoners to "inhumane and degrading treatment, including physical and psychological coercion, against persons deprived of their liberty to secure their cooperation."

The report, which CNN obtained Monday, brought what it called "serious violations of international humanitarian law" to the attention of U.S. and British authorities.

It quotes intelligence officers who estimate that between 70 percent and 90 percent of those imprisoned "had been arrested by mistake," often in cases in which soldiers used excessive force in the process.

The use of excessive force during arrests "seemed to reflect a usual modus operandi by certain CF [coalition forces] battle group units," the report's summary concluded.

During interrogations, the ICRC report said, there were cases of inmates being beaten, slapped, punched, kicked or having their faces pressed into the ground by booted troops; being held in solitary confinement with insufficient sleep, food or water; and being paraded past other prisoners naked, "sometimes hooded or with women's underwear over the head."

In some cases, prisoners were "attached repeatedly over several days, for several hours each time, with handcuffs to the bars of their cell door in humiliating (i.e., naked or in underwear) and/or uncomfortable position, causing physical pain."

In other cases, prisoners were "forced to remain for prolonged periods in stress positions, such as squatting or standing with or without the arms lifted."

The examples correspond to procedures documented in recent photographs of U.S. troops at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, a prison notorious for the torture of prisoners under the rule of former leader Saddam Hussein.

The photographs have sparked outrage at in the United States and overseas since they were first broadcast, prompting an apology Sunday from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and an expression of regret from President Bush last week.

ICRC observers examined conditions at coalition detention centers in Basra, Ramadi and Tikrit. Their report was prepared based on interviews conducted between March and November.

The ICRC objected to release of the report, warning that its pledges of confidentiality are "vital to obtaining access to prisoners worldwide."

"That access is in turn essential for us to carry out meaningful work for the persons detained," said Pierre Krahenbuhl, the relief agency's operations director. "The ICRC is unhappy to see this report being made public."

U.S. and British militaries are investigating allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners in their custody. Seven American soldiers face criminal charges in the case and six officers have received career-ending reprimands.

British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon told the House of Commons on Monday that British authorities are investigating the death of a prisoner in Basra in September, and military police have questioned a soldier who reported mistreatment by British troops similar to the American cases to a British newspaper.

Hoon said the British government had no objection to the release of the ICRC report.


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