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Many of worst prison abuses took place amid violence surge

WASHINGTON -- Many of the worst abuses that have come to light from the Abu Ghraib prison happened on a single November day amid a flare of insurgent violence in Iraq, the deaths of many US soldiers, and a breakdown of the American guards' command structure.

Nov. 8 was the day US guards took most of the infamous photographs: soldiers mugging in front of a pile of naked, hooded Iraqis, prisoners forced to perform or simulate sex acts, a hooded prisoner in a scarecrow-like pose with wires attached to him.

It was unclear whether most or all of the new pictures and video published by The Washington Post yesterday depicted events on Nov. 8. At least one photo, showing Specialist Charles Graner Jr. with his arm cocked as if to punch a prisoner, is described in military court documents as having been taken that day.

When Specialist Jeremy C. Sivits tearfully pleaded guilty Wednesday to abusing prisoners, he described fellow soldiers committing an escalating series of abuses on eight prisoners that included stamping on their toes and fingers and punching one man hard enough to knock him out.

Sivits is likely to testify about the events of Nov. 8 at courts-martial for other soldiers charged with abuse. Three of them declined to enter pleas at hearings Wednesday: Sergeant Javal Davis, Staff Sergeant Ivan "Chip" Frederick II, and Graner.

The abuse came during Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and reflection. The abused Iraqis, Sivits said, had been suspected of taking part in a prison riot that day. They were held at Abu Ghraib on suspicion of common crimes, not attacks on US forces, said Colonel Marc Warren, the top legal adviser to Iraq commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez.

The day of abuse -- a Saturday -- capped what had been the worst week for US troops in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

Nearly three dozen had been killed in a surge of attacks that left some other soldiers frustrated and frightened. Insurgents had attacked the Abu Ghraib prison and other US bases in the area with mortars several times in previous weeks.

The day before, insurgents had downed a Black Hawk helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, killing six. Sixteen soldiers had died five days earlier when a shoulder-fired missile destroyed a Chinook transport helicopter near the flashpoint city of Fallujah.

The International Red Cross temporarily pulled out of Iraq on Nov. 8 because of the violence, which also had included a deadly car bomb outside the aid group's Baghdad headquarters on Oct. 27.

Three Iraqi prisoners escaped in the four days before Nov. 8 -- and an additional half-dozen detainees escaped on that day, according to the military's internal report prepared by Major General Antonio M. Taguba.

The pressure was on to get information from prisoners to help stop the attacks.

"We've been working very hard to increase our intelligence capacity here," Sanchez told reporters in Iraq on Nov. 11. "We are not where we want to be yet."

Several accused soldiers have told investigators that military and civilian intelligence officers asked them to scare and humiliate the prisoners before they were questioned.

Using guards to help interrogators "set the conditions" for questioning had been one tactic recommended by Major General Geoffrey Miller in September. Miller, then the commander of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terrorism suspects, toured US prisons in Iraq and recommended several changes in tactics to Sanchez.

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