Abuse of Captives More Widespread, Says Army Survey
By DOUGLAS JEHL, STEVEN LEE MYERS and ERIC SCHMITT
The New York Times
WASHINGTON, May 25 An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.
The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on "blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia."
Among previously unknown incidents are the abuse of detainees by Army interrogators from a National Guard unit attached to the Third Infantry Division, who are described in a document obtained by The New York Times as having "forced into asphyxiation numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information" during a 10-week period last spring.
The document, dated May 5, is a synopsis prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command at the request of Army officials grappling with intense scrutiny prompted by the circulation the preceding week of photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. It lists the status of investigations into three dozen cases, including the continuing investigation into the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib.
In one of the oldest cases, involving the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan in December 2002, enlisted personnel from an active-duty military intelligence unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., and an Army Reserve military-police unit from Ohio are believed to have been "involved at various times in assaulting and mistreating the detainee."
The Army summary is consistent with recent public statements by senior military officials, who have said the Army is actively investigating nine suspected homicides of prisoners held by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in late 2002.
But the details paint a broad picture of misconduct, and show that in many cases among the 37 prisoners who have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army did not conduct autopsies and says it cannot determine the causes of the deaths.
In his speech on Monday night, President Bush portrayed the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers in narrow terms. He described incidents at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which were the first and most serious to come to light, as involving actions "by a few American troops who disregarded our country and disregarded our values."
According to the Army summary, the deaths that are now being investigated most vigorously by Army officials may be those from Afghanistan in December 2002, where two prisoners died in one week at what was known as the Bagram Collection Point, where interrogations were overseen by a platoon from Company A, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, from Fort Bragg.
The document says the investigation into the two deaths "is continuing with recent re-interviews," both of military intelligence personnel from Fort Bragg and of Army Reserve military police officers from Ohio and surrounding states, who were serving as guards at the facility. It was not clear from the document exactly which Army Reserve unit was being investigated.
On March 4, 2003, The New York Times reported on the two deaths, noting that the cause given on one of the death certificates was "homicide," a result of "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease." It was signed by an Army pathologist.
Both deaths were ruled homicides within days, but military spokesmen in Afghanistan initially portrayed at least one as being the result of natural causes. Personnel from the unit in charge of interrogations at the facility, led by Capt. Carolyn Wood, were later assigned to Iraq, and to the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib.
Lt. Col. Billy Buckner, a spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, said in an e-mail message on Monday that no one from the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion had yet been disciplined in connection with any deaths or other misconduct in Iraq. He declined to say if anyone from the unit was the subject of an ongoing investigation.
The document also categorizes as a sexual assault a case of abuse at Abu Ghraib last fall that involved three soldiers from that unit, who were later fined and demoted but whose names the Army has refused to provide.
As part of the incident, the document says, the three soldiers "entered the female wing of the prison and took a female detainee to a vacant cell."
"While one allegedly stood as look-out and one held the detainee's hand, the third soldier allegedly kissed the detainee," the report said. It says that the female detainee was reportedly threatened with being left with a naked male detainee, but that "investigation failed to either prove or disprove the indecent-assault allegations."
The May 5 document said the three soldiers from the 519th were demoted: two to privates first class and one to specialist. One was fined $750, the other two $500 each.
In what appeared to be a serious case of abuse over a prolonged period of time, unidentified enlisted members of the 223rd Military Intelligence Battalion, part of the California National Guard, were accused of abusing Iraqi detainees at a center in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
The unit, based in San Francisco, operated under the command of the Third Infantry Division, the armored force that led the Army assault on Baghdad last April and continued to patrol the city and the surrounding region into the summer.
According to the Army summary, members of the 223rd "struck and pulled the hair of detainees" during interrogations over a period that lasted 10 weeks. The summary said they "forced into asphyxiations numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information."
The accusations were based on the statement of a soldier. No other details of the abuse not the number of suspected soldiers nor the progress of the investigation were disclosed.
A spokeswoman for the California National Guard in Sacramento, Maj. Denise Varner, said she could not discuss any investigation.
Another incident, whose general outlines had been previously known, involved the death in custody of a senior Iraqi officer, Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who died last November at a detention center run by the Third Armored Cavalry, of Fort Carson, Colo. Soldiers acknowledged to investigators that interviews with the general on Nov. 24 and 25 involved "physical assaults."
In fact, investigators determined that General Mowhoush died after being shoved head-first into a sleeping bag, and questioned while being rolled repeatedly from his back to his stomach. That finding was first reported in The Denver Post.
According to Army officials and documents, at least 12 prisoners have died of natural or undetermined causes, including nine in Abu Ghraib. In six of those cases, the military conducted no autopsy to confirm the presumed cause of death. As a result, the investigations into their deaths were closed by Army investigators.
In another case, an autopsy found that a detainee, Muhammad Najem Abed, died of cardiac arrest complicated by diabetes, without noting, as the investigation summary does, that he died after "a self-motivated hunger strike."
In two cases, involving the deaths of prisoners at Abu Ghraib on Jan. 16 and Feb. 19, investigations continue even though the causes are believed to be natural. In the Feb. 19 case, Muhammad Saad Abdullah was found dead with "acute inflammation of the abdomen." An autopsy classified the death as natural, apparently caused by "peritonitis secondary to perforating gastric ulcer."
Army officials have been reluctant to discuss the type of detail that the document describes, even when investigations into the cases are closed. The Army has refused to make public the synopses of Army criminal investigations into the deaths or assaults of Iraqi or Afghan prisoners while in custody.
At a Pentagon briefing on Friday, a senior military official and a senior Pentagon medical official said the Army was investigating the deaths of 37 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, an increase from at least 25 deaths that a senior Army general described on May 4.
Army officials have given rough breakdowns of those deaths, including those ruled natural deaths, homicides and ongoing investigations. But Army officials have been stingy with details. Of the two homicide cases the Army has closed, for instance, officials have given only spare details about a soldier who shot and killed an Iraqi detainee who was throwing rocks at the guards. The soldier was demoted and dishonorably discharged from the Army.
When asked Friday about details of pending investigations that military medical examiners had characterized as homicides, and that had been described in news accounts, a senior official would only confirm, "That's an ongoing investigation."
The official described the dates, locations and number of deaths involved in four cases ruled justifiable homicide, all in Iraq, including three at Abu Ghraib. But the official did not give details about the individual cases.