According to the New York Times, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Military Police Battalion, and Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq were on notice as to at least some prisoner abuse as early as mid-November: Unit Says It Gave Earlier Warning of Abuse in Iraq.
Starting in mid-November, one member of the unit began asking detainees, “How have you been treated since you have been in U.S. custody?” It was intended as a tactic meant to make the detainee feel like the interrogator cared, military intelligence personnel said. But the question soon began eliciting vivid and disturbing answers.
“One guy said he was thrown on the ground and stepped on the head,” said one soldier. “That's when I started paying attention to it.”
As more abuse reports emerged, members of the unit made the question a formal part of the screening process. In early December, the question was added to a Microsoft Word document of questions for the unit's interrogators to ask detainees, several military intelligence personnel said in interviews.
“We couldn't believe what we were hearing,” said one soldier. Two detainees reported having been given electric shocks at other holding facilities before arriving in Abu Ghraib, according to the interviews. One prisoner's file included photographs of burns on his body. “We didn't want people to know that we knew about it and didn't report it,” the soldier said.
The reports of abuse made by the Detainee Assessment Branch were often limited to one or two paragraphs in the “circumstances of capture” section of a memorandum recommending whether detainees should be released. Military officials acknowledged that the memorandums were read by judge advocates.
From there, military officials said, the lawyers reviewed a detainee's file, added some documents and sent it to a three-member Review and Appeal Board made up of General Karpinski, General Fast and a lawyer. Whether the the assessment branch memorandum remained in the file is unclear.
But several military personnel said the policy was for the board to read the assessment memorandum. Once the board reviewed a file, the members voted on whether to release the detainee. At that point, the entire file was returned to the assessment branch with the board's decision stated on a separate form, signed by the board members, said the military intelligence personnel.
“Whether or not they read those things I don't know, but they should have,” said one military intelligence soldier who worked closely with the unit. “They were making decisions based on it.”