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U.S. Knew Soldiers Abused Iraqi Prisoners for Months

By Neil A. Lewis and Eric Lichtblau

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The International Committee of the Red Cross regularly complained to senior U.S. officials in Iraq and in Washington over the last several months about prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, a spokesman for the group said on Thursday.

The spokesman, Roland Huguenin, said, “Our reports to the U.S. administration contained many aspects which have now been reported with clear descriptions of the treatment of prisoners.”

Huguenin, who spoke by telephone from London, said the reports were based on the Red Cross’ interviews with prisoners and “were very extensive and detailed.”

“We knew everything that was going on,” he said.

Huguenin would not describe the details of the reports, but he said that they included accounts of the abuses like those disclosed over the last week in news accounts involving prisoners made to strip naked and pose in demeaning positions. “We condemned most firmly these practices that are absolutely humiliating to anyone in the world.”

He noted that some people had said that the offenses were “even more awful” for the Iraqi prisoners because, in Arab culture, that kind of treatment is unbearably shameful.

He said one thing that Red Cross officials did not know was that guards were taking photos of what was occurring.

Other human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Human Rights First, said this week that they had complained to the administration about reports of prisoner abuse and humiliation. Officials with the groups said they took personal appeals to L. Paul Bremer, head of the provision authority in Iraq, and Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, but that their appeals often seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“Unfortunately, we have not gotten the impression they’ve dealt with these issues very seriously,” said Alexandra Arriaga, head of government relations for Amnesty International, which issued a report in March that cataloged reports of beatings, torture and other abuse in Iraq.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is the only group whose officials are allowed to interview the prisoners in Baghdad.

In exchange for such access, the Red Cross typically does not publicize its findings but reports them only to the host government. But in rare cases like the situation at Abu Ghraib, it makes its complaints public when its officials believe its recommendations have been ignored.

The committee reports of the abusive behavior, Huguenin said, were distributed to the prison authorities in Baghdad as well as to senior officials of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. civilian administration running Iraq. In addition, he said, the reports were given to senior officials in the Bush administration, but he declined to say which ones.

He said that it was the committee’s practice to makes its complaints known widely inside a government to prevent any one person from sitting on the report, allowing senior officials to claim ignorance later on.

The assertion that the Red Cross warned U.S. officials of mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq comes as the Bush administration is depicting a situation in which many senior officials were unaware of the problem until a set of photographs was shown on CBS last week.