US military officials in Baghdad said this week that military lawyers and some colonels had received internal documents that reportedly cited complaints of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison starting in November, about two months before top military officials say they were alerted to the abuse.
The disclosure of the documents has raised new questions about whether top military officers knew about the abuse before January, when a soldier alerted them to photographs of abused prisoners at the facility just west of Baghdad.
At least 20 complaints of abuse were reported in the routine memos, according to interviews of military intelligence personnel, including the beating of five former Iraqi generals in November who were blamed for causing prisoner riots. After reviewing 106 of the memos this week, the military officials said they found only one complaint, in which a prisoner said he had been handcuffed too long, but said that thousands of additional files had not been reviewed.
The officials said they would make the documents available to Major General George Fay, who is conducting a criminal investigation of abuses at the prison.
"We take this pretty seriously," said Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, chief of public affairs at military headquarters in Baghdad. "The recommendation will be made to the investigation officer that the review of the files is included in the scope of the investigation."
According to former workers at the prison, a small unit of interrogators and analysts known as the Detainee Assessment Branch reported complaints of abuse in weekly memos that were sent to top officers who voted on whether to release detainees.
Military officials confirmed that the memos were sent to the prison's Review and Appeal Board, but said the officers on the board -- Brigadier General Barbara Fast, the top Army intelligence officer in Iraq, and Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Military Police Battalion -- had stepped down from the board in early November. Colonel Marc Warren, a top legal officer under Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the highest-ranking US commander in Iraq, left the board on Nov. 12, the officials said.
Fast, Karpinski and Warren were replaced by several colonels, as well as other military intelligence and military police personnel, to speed up the release of detainees, the officials said.