ABU GHRAIB, Iraq (AP) – The commander of U.S.-run prisons in Iraq apologized Wednesday for the abuse of prisoners by American guards and said he will invite observers from the Red Cross and Iraqi government into Abu Ghraib prison.
Inmates shouted protests about mistreatment as Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller led journalists through the lockup, the scene of photographs that showed Iraqi prisoners being abused by smiling U.S. guards.
“I would like to apologize for our nation and for our military for the small number of soldiers who committed illegal or unauthorized acts here at Abu Ghraib,” Miller said. “These are violations not only of our national policy but of how we conduct ourselves as members of the international community.”
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the spokesman for the U.S. command, also apologized.
“My Army has been embarrassed by this. My Army has been shamed by this,” he said. “And on behalf of my Army, I apologize for what those soldiers did to your citizens.”
President Bush addressed the Arab world on television, but stopped short of saying he was sorry. He said the prisoner abuses were “abhorrent” and do not represent “the America that I know.”
“There will be investigations. People will be brought to justice,” the president told the U.S.-sponsored Al-Hurra television network. He also gave a brief interview to the more popular Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya.
On Tuesday, the Army disclosed that it was conducting criminal investigations of 10 prisoner deaths in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq _ beyond two already ruled homicides _ plus another 10 abuse cases.
A U.S. intelligence official, who requested anonymity, said the CIA inspector general is investigating two more deaths involving CIA interrogators. That brought to 14 the number of prisoner deaths blamed on Americans or under U.S. investigation.
Miller said there were “some deaths” at Abu Ghraib and they were being investigated.
Army Col. Foster Payne, head of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, said treatment of prisoners has come under intense scrutiny since the departure of the Army’s 800th MP Brigade and the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade.
Although Payne and Miller did not describe methods now used to obtain information, former inmates say they’ve undergone electric shock, beatings, prolonged handcuffing and hooding, sleep deprivation, and “stress positioning” _ being made to stand or sit in uncomfortable positions for hours or days.
“Those acts are illegal and cannot be used,” said Payne, commander of the Texas-based 504th Military Intelligence Brigade. “If people are doing them they are doing them without guidance.”
Miller, former commander of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, said he would halt or restrict some interrogation methods, especially eight to 10 “very aggressive techniques.”
Those include hooding, stress positioning and sleep deprivation, which he said are now banned without specific approval.
Interrogations take place inside a pair of windowless plywood huts. Inside each hut are 12 booths with heavy steel loops on the floor for leg shackles.
The Abu Ghraib prison sprawls over the lush farm landscape west of Baghdad, its tall concrete walls bristling with razor wire and guard towers. All but a few prisoners live in fenced-in camps inside the walls, where rows of dirty tents line a field and men mill about chatting, washing or praying.
The prison was a notorious center for torture and killings during Saddam Hussein’s rule.
As Miller spoke to reporters in cellblock 1A, where the photos showing prisoner abuse were taken, five women inmates yelled and waved their arms through the iron bars.
“I’ve been here five months,” one woman shouted in Arabic. “I don’t belong to the resistance. I have children at home.”
At a tent camp used for detainees with medical conditions, prisoners ran out shouting. Some hobbled on crutches; one man waved his prosthetic leg overhead.
“Why? Why?” he shouted in Arabic. “Nobody has told me why I am here.”
Another prisoner produced a bullhorn and read a statement in English.
“The problem of the Iraqi prisoners isn’t only what is written in the news,” the prisoner shouted. “Iraqi people need freedom, their dignity and their rights.”
He complained of “random capturing from the streets,” soldiers stealing property during raids on homes, “illogical questions with no relation to reality” and “mental and psychological interrogations for no obvious reasons.”
Prison authorities did not allow the journalists to speak to or photograph detainees.
Outside the prison on the western edge of Baghdad, several hundred Iraqis protested the treatment of prisoners, gathering outside the main gate and chanting, “Democracy doesn’t mean killing innocent people.”
An AP reporter initially said there were about 2,000 demonstrators, but later AP estimates put the number at several hundred.
The demonstrators also hoisted a banner that said: “Free women or we will launch jihad.”
Miller said he asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to maintain a permanent presence at the prison. He said Iraq’s Interior Ministry and Ministry of Human Rights also will open offices at the prison.
The scandal emerged last week after CBS broadcast pictures of smiling American guards near Iraqi prisoners in humiliating positions.
Abdul-Salam Al-Qubeisi, a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which organized Wednesday’s protest, called on the United States to punish soldiers who abused Iraqis and to compensate the victims. He said human rights groups should visit prisoners.
Miller said Tuesday he would reduce the number of inmates at Abu Ghraib from 3,800 to fewer than 2,000. The U.S.-led coalition has a dozen prisons in Iraq holding about 8,000 inmates.