NEW YORK, Sept 24: In a most devastating report, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Saturday that US Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers, according to accounts from soldiers.

The new report, “Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division,” provides soldiers’ accounts of abuses against detainees committed by troops of the 82nd Airborne stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury (FOB Mercury), near Fallujah.

Human Rights Watch called on the administration to appoint a special counsel to conduct a widespread criminal investigation of military and civilian personnel, who may be implicated in detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.

The New York-based watchdog group also called on the US Congress to create a special commission, along the lines of the 9/11 commission, to investigate prisoner abuse issues, and to enact proposed legislation prohibiting all forms of detainee treatment and interrogation not specifically authorized by the US Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation and all treatment prohibited by the Convention Against Torture.

The soldiers’ accounts challenge the Bush administration’s claim that military and civilian leadership did not play a role in abuses. The officer quoted in the report told Human Rights Watch that he believes the abuses he witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan were caused in part by President Bush’s 2002 decision not to apply Geneva Conventions protection to detainees captured in Afghanistan.

The accounts show that abuses resulted from civilian and military failures of leadership and confusion about interrogation standards and the application of the Geneva Conventions. They contradict claims by the Bush administration that detainee abuses by US forces abroad have been infrequent, exceptional and unrelated to policy, the report said.

Three US army personnel — two sergeants and a captain — describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold.

Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan, the report said.

According to the accounts, US personnel abused detainees as part of the military interrogation process or merely to “relieve stress.” In numerous cases, they said the abuse was specifically ordered by Military Intelligence personnel before interrogations, and that superior officers within and outside of Military Intelligence knew about the widespread abuse.

“The administration demanded that soldiers extract information from detainees without telling them what was allowed and what was forbidden,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “Yet when abuses inevitably followed, the leadership blamed the soldiers in the field instead of taking responsibility.”

Soldiers referred to abusive techniques as “smoking” detainees, who are known as “PUCs,” or Persons Under Control. “Smoking a PUC” referred to exhausting detainees with physical exercises (sometimes to the point of unconsciousness) or forcing detainees to hold painful positions. “F— a PUC” detainees referred to beating or torturing them severely. The soldiers said that Military Intelligence personnel regularly instructed soldiers to “smoke” detainees before interrogations.

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