BAGHDAD -- The commander of the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been transferred to Iraq to oversee the treatment of 8,000 detainees as part of an investigation into alleged sexual and physical abuse at a US Army-run prison outside Baghdad, officials said yesterday.
The officials also disclosed that the top US commander in Iraq, Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, has ordered administrative penalties against seven unnamed officers who supervised the Army Reserve military police unit that was responsible for the Abu Ghraib detention facility in November, when Iraqi prisoners allegedly were subjected to beatings and sexually degrading acts by American soldiers.
Criminal charges were filed in March against six members of the unit, the 372d Military Police Company, based in Cumberland, Md. The charges included conspiracy, dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, assault, and indecent acts with another, the military's term for sexual abuse.
Three of the suspects have been recommended for court-martial. The other three face preliminary hearings in May and June to determine whether a court-martial is warranted. An Army spokesman said charges are likely to be filed against a seventh soldier, and three more soldiers are still under investigation and could face criminal charges.
According to sealed charging papers that were provided, soldiers forced prisoners to lie in ''a pyramid of naked detainees" and jumped on their prone bodies, while other detainees were ordered to strip and perform or simulate sex acts. In one case, a hooded man allegedly was made to stand on a box of MREs, or meals ready to eat, and told that he would be electrocuted if he fell off. In another example, the papers allege, a soldier unzipped a body bag and took snapshots of a detainee's frozen corpse inside.
Several times, soldiers were photographed and videotaped posing in front of humiliated inmates, according to the charges. One gave a thumbs-up sign in front of the human pyramid.
The documents add to growing accusations of improper prisoner treatment at Abu Ghraib, which was Iraq's largest and most notorious prison during the rule of ousted president Saddam Hussein. In addition to the military's announcement in March that soldiers had been charged, details of the abuses and photographs from inside the prison were broadcast Wednesday night by CBS's ''60 Minutes II."
US officials confirmed yesterday that the images were authentic and said they have taken several steps to stop the mistreatment of prisoners.
This month, Major General Geoffrey Miller took over the US-run detention facilities in Iraq in the newly created position of deputy commander for detainee operations, reporting directly to Sanchez. Miller had previously overseen the detention facility at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, which holds hundreds of detainees from about 40 countries, many of them from the 2001 war in Afghanistan.
In addition, Sanchez has ordered new training on the requirements of the Geneva Conventions and on the military's rules of engagement. He also has ordered creation of a team of officers that would retrain prison guards on conditions of confinement, ''with emphasis on treating detainees with dignity and respect," a spokesman said.
''New leadership at the confinement facility is clearly aware of the need to heighten their vigilance to prevent any possible mistreatment of Iraqi detainees," said the spokesman, Brigadeer General Mark Kimmitt.
The military would not disclose the administrative penalties that Sanchez has recommended against the seven supervising officers, who can contest the orders. The possible penalties range from an oral admonishment to a formal memorandum of reprimand that could effectively end an officer's career. A senior US official said yesterday that Sanchez was surprised by the severity of the abuses and the apparent lack of response by the military officers.
''One of the things General Sanchez was concerned about was the fact that this was more than one bad apple, one bad incident," said an aide to the general, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing. ''Why wasn't the chain of command involved? Why wasn't the chain of command aware?"
In January, after a soldier tipped off investigators about abuses at Abu Ghraib, Sanchez suspended 17 soldiers from their duties and ordered separate criminal and administrative investigations. The highest-ranking officer to be suspended was Army Reserve Brigadeer General Janis L. Karpinski, commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, based in Uniondale, N.Y., to which the 372d Military Police Company was temporarily attached.