An Iraqi prisoner at al-Muthanna prison in Baghdad. The Wikileaks documents include cases where detainees were beeaten, burned or otherwise tortured.
An Iraqi prisoner at al-Muthanna prison in Baghdad. The Wikileaks documents include cases where detainees were beeaten, burned or otherwise tortured. Karim Kadim/AP
Classified intelligence documents released Friday by WikiLeaks show the treatment of prisoners held by Iraqi security forces was more severe than that of prisoners held by the U.S. in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison. The new information revives questions about whether U.S. troops on occasion ignored clear evidence of torture, even when they witnessed it firsthand.
The nearly 400,000 classified reports leaked by someone inside the U.S. military and released Friday by Wikileaks include numerous firsthand accounts of Iraqi detainee abuse as observed and chronicled by U.S. troops who were advising or assisting Iraqi police and army forces.
At least six prisoners were killed while in Iraqi custody, and the reports highlight cases where detainees were beaten, burned or otherwise tortured. In most cases, U.S. troops who were present reported what they saw but did not intervene to stop the mistreatment.
U.S. military policy in such situations has long been a matter of contention. In late 2005, evidence emerged that U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces were abusing and torturing detainees. When asked at a Pentagon news briefing whether U.S. forces had any obligation to prevent such abuse, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace said they did.
"It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it," Pace said.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, standing beside Pace, apparently disagreed. "But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it," he said. "It's to report it."
Pace stood his ground, informed by the U.S. military's own guidelines. "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it," he said.
The WikiLeaks documents, however, show that Pace's guidance apparently did not reach down to U.S. troops in the field. One June 2004 "fragmentary order" (summarizing a command requirement) identified as Frago 242 instructs U.S. troops in Iraq not to investigate incidents of detainee abuse that were carried out by Iraqi security forces, even when witnessed firsthand. "Only an initial report will be made," the order said. "No further investigation will be required unless directed by [headquarters]."