Abuse Inquiries Were Cut 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 Tuesday amid mounting questions over prisoner abuses by the U.S. military.

The documents, the latest released by the American Civil Liberties Union in its ongoing lawsuit against the government, also report new allegations of mistreatment, including mock executions, death threats during interrogation and the use of dogs to force frightened prisoners to urinate at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.

The newly disclosed incidents were detailed in reports filed during the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, during the war in Afghanistan and at the detainee prison camp at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Many of the episodes occurred after revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prompted Bush administration pledges to curtail the mistreatment of captives.


Other incidents occurred in the fall of 2003, when the worst of the Abu Ghraib abuses were underway, and showcase an Army criminal investigative division, or CID, that was unable to properly review an increasing number of abuse allegations.

An earlier collection of government documents obtained by the ACLU and released Monday showed widespread complaints by FBI agents assigned to defense facilities about treatment of prisoners by military guards. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said he would have “nothing new” to say about the latest documents released by the ACLU in New York.

In one case in Tikrit, Iraq, on Sept. 11, 2003, an inmate named Obeed Hathere Radad died after he was shot by an Army guard, but the criminal investigative division did not receive a report of the incident for five days after his death.

Then, “due to the delay,” no autopsy was conducted, and the investigators found that the crime scene had been “significantly altered,” according to the new documents.

Further, evidence including the guard’s rifle was “not collected,” even though the “CID determined that probable cause existed for a murder charge.” Instead, the Army held a preliminary hearing into Radad’s death at the Army’s prison at Camp Packhorse and, without a more complete inquiry, ended up reducing the rank of an Army specialist and discharging him from the service.

In the death of another detainee in 2003, there was no autopsy, and military investigators were unable to determine what became of the body. Nevertheless, the cause of death was listed as “natural,” according to the new records.


In that case, Jassim Mohammed Saleh Hussain Obodi apparently died in August at Camp Cropper, a U.S. military prison in Iraq. According to interviews with guards and translators, Obodi was “talking and laughing” when suddenly his “left arm went stiff and he grabbed his head” and collapsed.

A military police soldier who accompanied Obodi to a hospital gave a written statement that was riddled with misspellings and 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 guard 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 ... and that was all that I did and was involved in.”

Later, the criminal investigative division conducted an “extensive search” of medical databases but came up “with negative results for any treatment” for 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 anyone who received the body, and criminal investigators could not determine whether the body first was transported to Germany or the United States for an autopsy.

Instead, criminal investigators relied on statements from soldiers and other detainees who “consistently reported the victim appeared extremely ill prior to his death.”

Despite the shortcomings of the investigation, the Army concluded: “There are no indications of wrongdoing,” a document said.

In an alleged abuse case in Baghdad in May, an investigation was dropped when criminal investigators could not locate the victim. The man had already been released, but the investigators 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 in a statement. “This situation is not acceptable in the whole world.”

His statement added that they put him “in a Hummer vehicle” and that because he’d had breathing problems since childhood, he nearly suffocated. He said next they threw him on the ground and kicked him in the back.

Another soldier, he said, stood nearby with a rifle directed toward his eyes, “just five centimeters away.” The detainee said they repeatedly asked him, “How many uncles do you have?” Eventually, they set him free.

Meanwhile, his family was distraught. “They never let him use [a] bathroom or give him water,” his brother told authorities. “We are looking for him in every police station and military places and no one [could] find his name in any database until they release him.”

Such abuse, the brother added, would not restore “the confidence with justice as the supreme power,” the documents reported.

Army investigators noted that “efforts to locate the detaining unit and [the victim] were unsuccessful.” Also, the unit operating in the area “had no records to reflect the apprehension” of the man.

Other abuses, according to the documents, included a June 2003 incident involving mock executions of Iraqi teenagers who had been arrested on allegations of looting. A soldier pointed his 9-millimeter weapon at one teenager, then fired it away from him.

Another soldier pointed at another youth, then pulled his trigger. No round fired. Instead, there was just a metallic click. The soldier pulled the trigger again; this time the shot went off, but away from the boy.

Soldiers later explained that this was done to scare them and recalled that “they were crying.” The youths eventually were freed.

It was unclear whether the soldiers were disciplined in those cases, but other cases did result in punishment.

In June and July of 2003, seven soldiers were accused of hitting an Iraqi detainee in the head several times, fracturing his jaw. They also allegedly shot at vehicles and dogs in traffic. Five were found guilty on various military charges, demoted and fined. Charges against the other two were dismissed.

At the Guantanamo Bay prison, a soldier was accused last year of stealing prayer beads and other personal items belonging to an inmate. But the probe was terminated when criminal investigators decided that further review would have “little or no value.”

In Iraq, three soldiers were charged with “housebreaking and larceny” last year, and were reduced in rank. Also in Iraq, two soldiers allegedly forced a detainee to hold a pistol “so a soldier could have an excuse for shooting the detainee” if he so desired.

At Abu Ghraib in September 2003, members of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion reportedly played a game using dogs to terrorize prisoners to see which would urinate on themselves first out of fear.

Despite a sworn statement from a military police guard about the “game,” the CID “established the offense of detainee abuse did not occur as alleged.”

Attempts by guards to induce prisoners to urinate in fear have been reported in earlier documents released since the first revelations of prison abuse in the spring. But the documents disclosed by the ACLU show that the Army Criminal Investigative Division was aware of the allegations.

Also in Iraq, in September 2003, an Army specialist admitted to threatening to kill Iraqi civilians during interrogation if they did not cooperate. The specialist “stated that he had no intention of hurting anyone and used the threat as a method of tricking Iraqis into giving him information,” an investigative report said.

The specialist also allegedly forced detainees to kneel with bullets in their mouths. “I see TV shows where the police always trick people,” he told investigators.

The CID records indicate that the Army specialist was referred to his superiors for administrative punishment.



Case gone wrong

Documents released by the ACLU on Tuesday indicate the Army failed in many cases to take steps necessary to investigate and prosecute suspected wrongdoing. Following are the details of one case:

Sept. 11, 2003: Detainee Obeed Hathere Radad was shot and killed by a military police specialist at Camp Packhorse in Tikrit, Iraq, who pointed and fired his M-16. The unidentified MP “did not follow proper procedure,” reports said, “deliberately shooting and killing” Radad. The MP had exhibited “belligerent and aggressive behavior” toward the detainee before the shooting, reports said.

Sept. 16: MPs filed the first report of the shooting. Because of the five-day lag, the bullet was never recovered, an autopsy was not performed and the M-16 was not seized as evidence. No fingerprints were taken.

Oct. 23: In response to a possible charge of murder by the Army criminal investigative division, the MP refused to waive his rights or submit to questioning.

Nov. 12: The MP was demoted and agreed to a discharge.

Nov. 23: The case was closed.

May 19, 2004: Army commanders reviewing the case criticized investigators’ failure to take steps that would have been needed to back a murder case. Further training was necessary, a battalion operations officer concluded.

Source: Los Angeles Times