Ghosts in the Machine

From Holden:

Tom Friedman awakens from his career-long slumber in time to notice that last week his own paper reported that 26 detainees, men Friedman correctly characterizes as POWs, have been murdered at the hands of U.S. military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. I applaud about 90% of his column, the one flaw being his assignment of blame to “cabinet, C.I.A. and military officers”. Torture and abuse in America’s fifty-first and fifty-second state was authorized by the president himself, and it is with him that the blame lies. Tom needs to dig down deep and muster the courage to speak the word: impeachment.

Meanwhile, it looks like the “rare and ad hoc” practice of hiding ghost detainees was neither rare nor ad hoc.

Army and Pentagon investigations have acknowledged a limited amount of ghosting, but more than a dozen documents and investigative statements obtained by The Washington Post show that unregistered CIA detainees were brought to Abu Ghraib several times a week in late 2003, and that they were hidden in a special row of cells. Military police soldiers came up with a rough system to keep track of such detainees with single-digit identification numbers, while others were dropped off unnamed, unannounced and unaccounted for.

The documents show that the highest-ranking general in Iraq at the time acknowledged that his top intelligence officer was aware the CIA was using Abu Ghraib’s cells, a policy the general abruptly stopped when questions arose.


According to statements investigators took from soldiers and officers who worked at the prison, a stream of ghost detainees began arriving in September 2003, after military intelligence officers and the CIA came to an arrangement that kept the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations from knowing the detainees existed. The investigative documents show that Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, the top two military intelligence officers at the prison, took part in discussions with the CIA on how to handle agency detainees.


Keeping ghost detainees was harshly criticized by Army investigators who looked into abuse at the prison, and human rights groups condemn the practice. The Red Cross regularly inspects prisons and is supposed to have access to all inmates to ensure their rights are protected.


Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the top Army officer in Iraq at the time, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last spring that there was no system of keeping such detainees at Abu Ghraib, but he later acknowledged two cases in which it had happened, including that of one detainee who died in custody and another who was kept without registration at the behest of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In a deposition on Sept. 1, 2004, however, Sanchez said he learned after the hearing that there had been a “staff officer understanding” that allowed ghosting by the “Other Government Agency,” a code term for the CIA. He said in the deposition that Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, his top intelligence officer in Iraq, “had been made aware of the allocation of cells for use by OGA.” Fast has been cleared of wrongdoing in Abu Ghraib investigations and last week assumed command of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

“I do know now that there was not a procedure in place to properly inprocess and assign ISNs [internee serial numbers] for those individuals,” Sanchez said, according to a transcript of the deposition obtained by The Post. “And when we found out about that, that was fixed.”


Jordan, in his statement to investigators, said there was a memorandum of understanding between his unit and “OGA” to guide the housing of prisoners brought in by the CIA and Task Force 1-21, a secret Special Operations unit. He said they “dropped off a detainee about two to three times a week.”

Pappas told investigators he initially “had concerns over this arrangement” and asked Col. Steven Boltz, then the second-ranking military intelligence officer in Iraq, if they were going to continue housing ghosts. “He said yes, to facilitate their request,” Pappas said, according to his statement. “They would drop off detainees without notifying us.”