Friday, October 15, 2004

PRISON ABUSE: U.S. Army Inquiry Implicates 28 Soldiers in Deaths of 2 Afghan Detainees

The New York Times
October 15, 2004

U.S. Army Inquiry Implicates 28 Soldiers in Deaths of 2 Afghan Detainees

WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 - A newly completed Army criminal investigation has implicated 28 active-duty and reserve soldiers in the deaths of two Afghan men detained at the American air base at Bagram in December 2002, and describes potential offenses ranging from involuntary manslaughter to assault to conspiracy, the Army said Thursday.

One Pentagon official said five or six could face the most serious charges, a decision that now rests with the soldiers' commanders.

Those cited by the investigation include officers - the highest ranking are two captains - noncommissioned officers and enlisted soldiers, according to Pentagon officials familiar with the report. The names were not publicly disclosed.

The inquiry by the Army Criminal Investigation Command involved soldiers from two units deployed at the Bagram Control Point, a detention facility at an American base 40 miles north of Kabul. The Army Reserve unit was the 377th Military Police Company with headquarters at Cincinnati, and the active-duty unit was Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, whose home is Fort Bragg, N.C.

After photographs of American soldiers abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad drew global outrage, investigators learned that the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion had played a major role in setting up the prison's interrogation unit. The 519th was in charge of interrogations at the time of the homicides at Bagram, investigators found.

Procedures drawn up in Afghanistan became the template for practices of Abu Ghraib interrogators, who were drawn from a unit of 519th sent to Iraq and assigned to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which in turn was in charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib, according to two Pentagon inquiries. But they provided no specifics on the procedures.

Human rights groups responded to the announcement of the completed Army inquiry by saying the roots of the Abu Ghraib scandal may reach back to the incidents in Afghanistan.

"The failure to promptly account for the prisoners' deaths indicates a chilling disregard for the value of human life and may have laid the groundwork for further abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere," said Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA.

Pentagon officials said the pace of the inquiry reflected an Army mandate that "thoroughness trumps timeliness." One said the investigation was logistically complicated; the more than 250 people interviewed had to be found at a wide number of locations around the world, since those at Bagram at the time of the two homicides had redeployed.

The two deaths occurred on Dec. 4 and 10, 2002, in separate isolation cells. Both men had suffered "blunt force trauma to the legs," according to Pentagon officials, and investigators determined that they had been beaten by "multiple soldiers" who, for the most part, had used their knees.

Pentagon officials said it was likely that the beatings had been confined to the legs of the detainees so that wounds would be less visible.

Both men had been chained to the ceiling - one at the waist and one by the wrists - although their feet remained on the ground. Both men had been captured by Afghan forces and turned over to the American military for interrogation.

One, Mullah Habibullah, a brother of a former Taliban commander, died Dec. 4 of a pulmonary embolism apparently caused by blood clots formed in his legs from the beatings.

The other, a man identified as Dilawar, died Dec. 10. He suffered from a heart condition, and his death by heart attack was attributed to the beatings he received, Pentagon officials said. Mr. Dilawar was arrested after a broken walkie-talkie and an electric stabilizer were found in his taxi several hours after rockets were fired at an American base.

Only one soldier has been officially charged by the Army in the case. Sgt. James P. Boland, of the military police unit, was charged with assault and other crimes.