U.S. investigators are looking into why up to 100 detainees held by the American military in Iraq were concealed from Red Cross observers in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Army officials discussed the matter before House and Senate Armed Services Committees Thursday.
General Paul Kern, who oversaw an Army investigation of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, said the number of so-called ghost detainees held in Iraqi prisoners was far higher than the eight people identified in a recent Army report. "I cannot give you a precise volume, chairman, because there is no documentation of the numbers. But we believe the number is in the dozens to perhaps up to 100," he said. General Kern made his comments to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which, along with its House counterpart, held hearings into cases of Iraqi prisoner abuse.
Major General George Fay, who also probed the prisoner abuse cases, told the committee the number of ghost detainees was probably more like a few dozen.
The Central Intelligence Agency has not responded to Army requests to turn over information about these detainees, to the anger of a number of lawmakers.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said "I think that this is something that has to be asked, Mr. Chairman, of the incoming director of the CIA. This needs to be cleared up rather badly."
Mr. McCain was referring to Congressman Porter Goss, whom President Bush has nominated to be the next CIA chief.
Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, agreed. "We are going to get the CIA responses to these issues that have been raised about the fact that they kept detained personnel off the books in violation of the Geneva requirements," he said.
The Geneva Conventions require that countries give information on prisoners to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which monitors their treatment.
Photographs of Iraqi detainees being physically and sexually abused by U.S. soldiers at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison shocked the world when they surfaced earlier this year.
General Fay's investigation is focusing on which military intelligence officers at the prison could be charged with crimes under military law. The probe also says top commanders in Iraq deserve some of the blame for management failures.
A broader investigation into prisoner abuse cases led by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger is looking into military-run detention centers in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as Iraq. That inquiry says while a number of lower-ranking soldiers were to blame, some responsibility could rest with officials at the highest levels in the Pentagon for inadequate supervision.
Mr. Schlesinger told the House Armed Services Committee that the number of confirmed cases of abuse represent a small fraction of the 50,000 detainees who have been held by the U.S. military. "In the overall performance, 66 cases of confirmed abuse is a small number," he said.
To date, seven military police reservists who were assigned to Abu Ghraib have been charged in the prisoner abuse scandal.