Mopping Up

The ordeal of the New Yorkers sent to clean up the mess at Abu Ghraib

But a small group of young men in one camp hit on the most ingenious escape plan. In the corner of their tent, they began to dig a tunnel. They attached a homemade tube made from tent lining to the air conditioner and pumped air into the hole. The digger worked at night in a hole which was about the width of a large dinner plate. They carefully spread the excess dirt around the yard, and kept a bowl of water for the digger to wash himself when he finished each night. By the time it was discovered and collapsed with a backhoe, the wormhole ran about 30 feet. It was destroyed before the diggers were able to use it to escape.

When detainees rioted, the soldiers were under orders to stop the disturbance before it spread to other parts of the camp. They used rifles and shotguns which fired non-lethal bullets, grenades which spewed rubber balls, and flash-bang devices. The unit also had a special team equipped with Plexiglas shields and long batons who would enter a camp to subdue and arrest prisoners.

In quelling a riot, the soldiers were instructed to keep firing until the threat stopped, which often meant that the rioting group was peppered with a large volume of the painful rounds. "The non-lethal rounds were fired with impunity," Landis recalls.


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On October 15, 2005, the day that Iraqis voted to approve a new constitution, the men in one camp rioted in an effort to stop other prisoners from going to the polls, some of which were set up inside the prison. The guards responded with rubber bullets. "[The detainees] just went ballistic," Guiliani says. "They didn't want anyone to vote; they thought the election was fixed."

Prisoners made complaints about soldiers verbally abusing them or pointing their weapons at them. But soldiers grumbled, too: They didn't like that some detainee tents were outfitted with big-screen televisions and VCRs.

"After guarding detainees for several months in full battle gear in 120-degree temperatures, I knew there would be some burnout," Hussey wrote in an essay published in a military police journal. "It is difficult for young soldiers because the same detainees that they care for are the same detainees who pelt them with rocks in the middle of the night."

But Hussey and other members of the 306th insist there was no physical abuse of the prisoners. According to Rubenstein, the guards were closely supervised.

The 2004 scandal that the 306th was supposed to be cleaning up after, meanwhile, hardly seemed to have left a presence. Guiliani says detainees never mentioned it. And the members of the 306th rarely discussed it or speculated about how it had happened.

According to Rubenstein, if a soldier began to show a tendency toward violence, he was rotated into another part of the camp. One sergeant, for example, was removed from the base for pointing a weapon at his own men.

One of the more serious misconduct investigations involved the theft of $42,000 from the property room that held prisoner belongings. Suspicion eventually focused on one of the soldiers staffing the room. Rather than prosecute the alleged culprit in Iraq, however, commanders opted to handle the situation when the unit returned to Dix. The case remains under investigation, a military source says.

The work, in heavy armor and unrelenting heat, was grinding. Needing some kind of release, the camp held weekly boxing matches, known as the Friday Night Fights. And unlike most bases in Iraq, the soldiers at Abu Ghraib had wireless Internetcourtesy of two ingenious soldierswhich allowed them to stay in close touch with folks back home.

When it came to sins of the body, the commanders decreed that Abu Ghraib was to be a clean camp. Under an edict known as the "SAD" policy, sex, alcohol, and drugs were banned. Once the unit reached the prison, however, that policy as it related to sex soon evolved into a version of "don't ask, don't tell," as members of the heavily co-ed unit hooked up.

Alcohol was not too hard to find. It was sold under the table by Iraqis who worked at the prison, brought from the local town at considerable danger. Booze also arrived in care packages sent from home.

The stress of the job led an uncounted number of soldiers to use sleep aids and mood stabilizers prescribed by the base hospital. After one soldier fell asleep in a watchtower and blamed his medication, the command staff pleaded with the medical bureau to keep them apprised of what the soldiers were being prescribed.

Where there was wireless Internet, there was also Internet porn. So much porn was being downloaded that it routinely clogged the system. "We would have to shut it down and clean it out, and everyone would get angry with us because the system was down," says one of the soldiers who was responsible for the network maintenance.

One enlisted man found himself transferred off the base when he was caught e-mailing doctored nude photos of a new officer around the base. Investigators determined that the pictures were phony, and they found hundreds of other doctored photos on the computermany depicting the spouses and girlfriends of other soldiers.

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