GIs Back in US Say Abuse Was 'Commonplace'
By Adam Tanner
ANTIOCH, California (Reuters) - Three U.S. military policemen who served at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison said on Thursday they had witnessed unreported cases of prisoner abuse and that the practice against Iraqis was commonplace.
"It is a common thing to abuse prisoners," said Sgt. Mike Sindar, 25, a National Guardsman with the 870th Military Police Company based in the San Francisco Bay area. "I saw beatings all the time.
"A lot of people had so much pent-up anger, so much aggression."
U.S. treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib has stirred wide international condemnation after the publication of photos in recent days showing Americans sexually humiliating prisoners. Six soldiers in Iraq have been charged in the case and President Bush apologized publicly on Thursday.
Although public attention has focused on the dehumanizing photos, some members of the 870th MP unit say the faces in those images were far from the only ones engaged in cruel behavior.
"It was not just these six people," Sindar, who shaves his head and wears a large tattoo on his forearm, told Reuters. "Yes, the beatings happen, yes, all the time."
Ramone Leal, 25, said one female soldier in his unit fired off a slingshot into a crowd of prisoners, injuring one. Another group of soldiers knocked a 14-year-old boy to the ground as he arrived at the prison and then twisted his arm.
"The soldiers were laughing at him," said Leal, who like the others interviewed for this article has since returned to California. "I saw the other soldiers that would take out their frustrations on the prisoners."
Until earlier this year prisoners would arrive at Abu Ghraib with broken bones, suggesting they had been roughed up, he said, but the practice ended in January or February.
A sergeant in their group was admonished last year after holding down a prisoner for other men to beat, both Leal and Sindar said. They said they saw hooded prisoners with racial taunts written on the hoods such as "camel jockey' or slogans such as "I tried to kill an American but now I'm in jail."
Photos obtained by Reuters show U.S. soldiers looking into body bags of three Iraqi prisoners killed by 870th MP guards during a prison riot in the fall of 2003. One photograph shows a bearded man with much of his bloodied forehead removed by the force of a bullet.
"We were constantly being attacked, we had terrible support ... also being extended all the time, a lot of us had problems with our loved ones suffering from depression," said MP Dave Bischell. "It all contributes to the psychological component of soldiers when they get stressed."
When military investigators were looking into abuses several months ago, they gave U.S. guards a week's notice before inspecting their possessions, several soldiers said. "That shows you how lax they are about discipline. 'We are going to look for contraband in here, so hint, hint, get rid of the stuff,' that's the way things work in the Guard," Leal said.