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Context of 'May 12, 2003: Four US Soldiers Beat Severely Prisoners at Camp Bucca'

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Four soldiers from the 320th Military Police Battalion severely beat prisoners after transporting them to Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. Soldiers spread the legs of some prisoners while others kick them in the groin. One prisoner allegedly has “his face smashed in.” The incident is reported by the MPs of another unit. After the soldiers are charged, one of the soldiers being investigated writes to his relatives to explain the charges: “A few of my MPs were assaulted by the enemy prisoners, and we had to use force to regain control, all justifiable.” (Associated Press 7/27/2003; Higham, White, and Davenport 5/9/2004) The four MPs of Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum’s 320th Military Police Battalion will be given less than honorable discharges, but not prosecuted. (US News and World Report 7/9/2004)

Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski—a reservist with no experience managing prisons—takes over command of the 800th Military Police Brigade, an Army reserve unit from Uniondale in New York State, from Brig. Gen. Paul Hill. She is put in charge of three large jails, eight battalions, and thirty-four hundred Army reservists. Her office is located at Baghdad Airport. (Higham, White, and Davenport 5/9/2004; Hersh 5/10/2004) She becomes the first female general officer to lead US soldiers in combat. (Smith and White 5/12/2004) Karpinski’s brigade, consisting of 3,400 soldiers divided over three battalions, is initially put in charge of Camp Bucca and three other smaller facilities. At this time, Camp Bucca holds about 3,500 prisoners. (Worden 7/4/2004)

The Pentagon announces that four US soldiers from a Pennsylvania-based Army Reserve have been charged with punching, kicking, and breaking the bones of Iraqi captives at Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in connection with the May 12 incident (see May 12, 2003). This is the first known case where US soldiers are charged for alleged illegal treatment toward prisoners of war. (Associated Press 7/27/2003) By January 2004, the soldiers will have all been discharged after Brig. Gen. Ennis Whitehead III determines that they had kicked prisoners or encouraged others to do so. (Associated Press 11/25/2003; Associated Press 1/16/2004)

The 320th Military Police Battalion, headed by Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, sets up its headquarters in Abu Ghraib. It is also assigned command over the 72nd MP Company, the unit that was initially put in charge of the facility. The 72nd MP Company is from Henderson, Nevada, commanded by Capt. Troy Armstrong, and was earlier part of the 400th MP Battalion. (US Congress 9/9/2004 pdf file)

The US military reopens the Abu Ghraib prison facility in Baghdad, which had been the main prison used by Saddam Hussein. Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum, a reservist who commands the 320th Military Police Battalion, is put in charge of the prison. He reports directly to Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski. (Higham, White, and Davenport 5/9/2004)

Gen. Janis Karpinski is disciplined by Lt. Col. Ricardo S. Sanchez with a Memorandum of Admonishment and relieved of duty. She herself suspends Lt. Col. Jerry L. Phillabaum and Cpt. Donald Reese from their duties. (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004)


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