Los Angeles Times

Records: Detainee Abuse Probes Fell Short

Times Staff Writer

Internal army investigations into the suspicious deaths of several Iraqi detainees were cut short when authorities lost records, failed to conduct autopsies and contaminated evidence, according to government documents made public today, raising mounting questions about prisoner abuse by the U.S. military.

The new documents are the latest to be released by the ACLU in its ongoing lawsuit against the government. They contain additional incidents of mock executions, death threats during interrogations and the use of dogs by military trainers to see which prisoners would urinate the fastest at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

The new incidents of abuse were recorded during the current military occupation in Iraq, during the war in Afghanistan that followed the Sept. 11 attacks in this country, and at the detainee prison camp at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Many of the new episodes occurred well after the Abu Ghraib scandal shocked much of the world last spring and the Bush administration pledged to curtail the violence against captives taken into U.S. custody.

Other incidents occurred last fall when the worst of the Abu Ghraib abuses were underway, and showcase an Army criminal investigative division (CID) unable to properly review an increasing number of abuse allegations.

In the case of a death of an inmate on Sept. 11, 2003, in Tikrit, Iraq, for instance, the CID did not receive a report of the incident for five days after the inmate, Obeed Hethere Radad, died. Then, "due to the delay," no autopsy was conducted and the investigators found that the crime scene had been "significantly altered."

Further, there was evidence that was "not collected" even though the "CID determined that probable cause existed for a murder charge."

But instead the Army held a preliminary hearing into Radad's death at the Army's prison at Camp Iron Horse and, without a more complete investigation, ended up reducing the rank of an army specialist and discharging him.

In another case, not only was there no autopsy but military investigators could not determine where the body was taken. Nevertheless, the cause of death was listed as "natural."

Jassim Mohammed Saleh Hussain Al-Obodi apparently died in August of last year. He was a civilian detainee held at Camp Cropper, a U.S. military prison in Iraq. According to interviews with guards and translaters, Al-Obodi was "talking and laughing" when suddenly his "left arm went stiff and he grabbed his head" and collapsed.

A military policeman who accompanied Al-Obodi to a hospital gave a written sworn statement marked by misspellings and other grammatical errors.

"All I no is one of are medics came to are building were the medics live and told me they needed me to drive to the hospital," the soldier wrote. "…I took of for the 109th Hospital there all I did was record what the doctors told me to like the drugs they were injecting and then they said to call the death so I called out the time it was 1554 03AUG03 and that was all that I did and was involved in."

Later, the CID said it conducted an "extensive search" of medical databases but came up "with negative results for any treatment for Mr. Al-Obodi."

Other documents show there were no fingerprints of the deceased and that the body was "presumably" turned over to an "unidentified local national" for burial. But there were no records of who received the body and the CID could not determine whether the body first was transported to Germany or the United States for an autopsy.

Instead, the CID relied on statements from soldiers and other detainees who "consistently reported the victim appeared extremely ill prior to his death."

Despite the shortcomings, the investigation concluded: "There are no indications of wrongdoing."

In an alleged abuse case that occurred last May 11 in Baghdad, an investigation was dropped when the CID could not locate the victim. The man had earlier been released, but the CID could not track him down even after receiving statements from him and his brother describing the alleged mistreatment.

"The soldier tied my hands to the back and dragged my head to put the sack on it," the alleged victim said. "This situation is not acceptable in the whole world."

He added that his captors "put me in a hummer vehicle" and that because "I have breathing problems from my childhood," he nearly suffocated." He said he was then taken to a room, thrown on the ground and kicked in the back.

Another soldier, he said, stood "near me, with a rifle in his hand directed towards my eyes just 5 cm" away. He said he was asked repeatedly "how many uncles do you have?" Eventually he was freed.

In the meantime, his family was distraught.

"They never let him use bathroom or give him water," said his brother. "We are looking for him in every police station and military places and no one find his name in any data base until they release him."

Abuse like this, the brother added, will not help build trust with Americans or restore "the confidence with justice as the supreme power."

Army investigators apparently got nowhere in reviewing the case. They noted that "efforts to locate the detaining unit and (the victim) were unsuccessful."

Making matters worse, the unit that was operating in that area of Iraq known as the Al-Adamyla Region "had no records to reflect the apprehension" of the man.

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