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Calif. Guardsman Alleges Abuse in Iraq
Published: June 9, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A California National Guardsman says three fellow soldiers brazenly abused detainees during interrogation sessions in an Iraqi police station, threatening them with guns, sticking lit cigarettes in their ears and choking them until they collapsed.

Sgt. Greg Ford said he repeatedly had to revive prisoners who had passed out, and once saw a soldier stand on the back of a handcuffed detainee's neck and pull his arms until they popped out of their sockets.

"I had to intervene because they couldn't keep their hands off of them," said Ford, part of a four-member team from the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion that questioned detainees last year in Samarra, north of Baghdad. He said the abuse took place from April to June.

Ford's commanding officers deny any abuse occurred, and say investigations within their battalion and by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division determined they had done nothing wrong.

"All the allegations were found to be untrue, totally unfounded and in a number of cases completely fabricated," said the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Drew Ryan.

Ford's allegations are being further investigated by the CID, which would not comment on the probe.

Ford told The Associated Press that when he reported the problems last June to his commanding officers, they pressured him to drop his claims.

"Immediately, within the same conversation, the command said, `Nope, you're delusional, you're crazy, it never happened.' They gave me 30 seconds to withdraw my request for an investigation," Ford said. "I stood my ground."

When he insisted on an official investigation, they ordered him to see combat stress counselors, who sent him out of Iraq, he said.

Ford said he did not hear from investigators until the release of photographs of mistreatment inside the Abu Ghraib prison provoked worldwide outrage and prompted a review of other allegations of abuse.

Ford, 49, said has worked for 18 years as a state prison guard and has more than 30 years of military experience. He was sent out of Iraq last June and, after about six months in Fort Lewis, Wash., returned home to the Sacramento suburb of Fair Oaks.

He said his three fellow team members were not properly trained to do interrogations and got carried away with their power.

"You weren't supposed to stand on their neck or put lit cigarettes in their ears. Twice I had to pull burning cigarettes out of detainees' ears," Ford said. "I said, `Look, this is not going to go over well with the community of Samarra.' Our people basically ignored all the warnings."

Ford said the soldiers routinely brought guns into the interrogation room, and he once saw his team leader pointing a pistol at a detainee's head.

The three accused soldiers were not available for comment, a California National Guard spokesman said.

Ford was one of about 100 members of the San Francisco-based 223rd who arrived in Iraq last spring and spread out in teams of three to six interrogators, Arabic linguists and counterintelligence officers. The battalion returned home in March.

Whenever a prisoner collapsed, his team's leader would emerge and say, "Greg, I think we've got another accident," said Ford, who has medical training. "Then I'd have to bring them out and revive them."

Ford said he told the team leader that if one of the Iraqis died, he would testify against him in a court-martial. "He basically laughed it off. At that point, I was persona non-grata," the sergeant said.

So Ford asked to be relieved from his position, prompting a visit by his commander, Capt. Vic Artiga, and Lt. Col. Ryan, who "were too busy threatening me to do any proper investigation," Ford said.

Ryan and Artiga would not discuss the details of Ford's allegations but denied pressuring Ford to drop his claims. They said they did an immediate investigation, which cleared all the soldiers.

"I'm very confident that my soldiers acted professionally, ethically and within the law, as did I," Artiga said.

But Ford said nobody interviewed him while he was in Iraq and he does not think anyone has interviewed the Iraqi detainees. Artiga also said he does not believe Iraqis were interviewed for the battalion's investigation.

After leaving Iraq, Ford underwent psychiatric evaluations at military installations in Germany and San Antonio, and said those evaluations found nothing wrong with him.