By ALEXANDER G. HIGGINS, Associated Press Writer
GENEVA - A Red Cross report disclosed Monday said coalition intelligence officers estimated that 70-90 percent of Iraqi detainees were arrested by mistake and said Red Cross observers witnessed U.S. officers mistreating Abu Ghraib prisoners by keeping them naked in total darkness in empty cells.
The report by the International Committee of the Red Cross supports its allegations that abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers was broad and "not individual acts" contrary to President Bush (news - web sites)'s contention that the mistreatment "was the wrongdoing of a few."
"ICRC delegates directly witnessed and documented a variety of methods used to secure the cooperation of the persons deprived of their liberty with their interrogators," according to the confidential report.
The delegates saw in October how detainees at Abu Ghraib were kept "completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness," the report said.
"Upon witnessing such cases, the ICRC interrupted its visits and requested an explanation from the authorities," the report said. "The military intelligence officer in charge of the interrogation explained that this practice was 'part of the process.'"
This apparently meant that detainees were progressively given clothing, bedding, lighting and other items in exchange for cooperation, it said.
It said it found evidence supporting prisoners' allegations of other forms of abuse during arrest, initial detention and interrogation.
Among the evidence were burns, bruises and other injuries consistent with the abuse that prisoners alleged, it said.
The 24-page document, confirmed by the ICRC as authentic after it was published Monday by the Wall Street Journal, said the abuses were primarily during the interrogation stage by military intelligence.
Once the detainees were moved to regular prison facilities, the abuses typically stopped, it said.
The report cites abuses some "tantamount to torture" including brutality, hooding, humiliation and threats of "imminent execution."
"These methods of physical and psychological coercion were used by the military intelligence in a systematic way to gain confessions and extract information and other forms of cooperation from person who had been arrested in connection with suspected security offenses or deemed to have an 'intelligence value.'"
The agency said arrests allegedly tended to follow a pattern.
"Arresting authorities entered houses usually after dark, breaking down doors, waking up residents roughly, yelling orders, forcing family members into one room under military guard while searching the rest of the house and further breaking doors, cabinets and other property," the report said.
"Sometimes they arrested all adult males present in a house, including elderly, handicapped or sick people," it said. "Treatment often included pushing people around, insulting, taking aim with rifles, punching and kicking and striking with rifles."
It said some coalition military intelligence officers estimated "between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq (news - web sites) had been arrested by mistake. They also attributed the brutality of some arrests to the lack of proper supervision of battle group units."
Pierre Kraehenbuehl, ICRC director of operations, said Friday the report had been given to U.S. officials in February, but it only summarized what the agency had been telling U.S. officials in detail between March and November 2003 "either in direct face-to-face conversations or in written interventions."
Kraehenbuehl said the abuse of prisoners represented more than isolated acts, and that the problems were not limited to Abu Ghraib.
"We were dealing here with a broad pattern, not individual acts. There was a pattern and a system," he said, declining to give further details.
The report described how male prisoners were forced to parade around in women's underwear.
It said that information obtained "suggested the use of ill-treatment against persons deprived of their liberty went beyond exceptional cases and might be considered a practice tolerated by" coalition forces.
Kraehenbuehl said the ICRC regretted the publication and said it would have preferred sticking to its policy of confidential discussions with coalition authorities because the United States had been making progress toward meeting its demands.
ICRC chief spokeswoman Antonella Notari declined to discuss the full report.
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