Abuse Brings Deaths of Captives Into Focus
An Afghan captive froze to death in a CIA-run lockup in Kabul in 2002 after he was doused with water and shackled overnight to a wall. The prisoner died, U.S. intelligence sources said, after Afghan guards apparently sought to punish him for being unruly.
At Iraq’s Camp Bucca, a detainee was shot through the chest last year while throwing rocks at a guard tower. The Army ruled the killing a “justifiable shooting,” but a Red Cross team that witnessed the incident at the facility in southern Iraq concluded that “at no point” did the prisoner pose a serious threat to guards.
At Camp Cropper, near Baghdad’s airport, detainee 7166 was shot and killed in June as he tried to crawl under a barbed-wire fence in an escape attempt that commanders had known was being planned a day earlier.
All were deaths in U.S. custody, incidents and individuals largely ignored by outsiders at the time. Now they have emerged from the thicket of military, criminal and congressional investigations into abuse of U.S. captives overseas triggered by mistreatment of detainees at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
The Times has identified at least 18 cases of deaths of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in 2002 from apparent mistreatment or shootings during prison unrest and other incidents. At least 14 occurred in Iraq and four in Afghanistan. The CIA has been connected by investigators, witnesses or other sources to as many as five of the deaths.
Independent human rights groups insist that more have died than the military has disclosed. They say that the military has refused to release sufficient information and that the investigations so far have provided too little accountability. Apparently, only one low-ranking soldier has been tried and convicted for shooting an unarmed prisoner. He was demoted to private and discharged from the Army.
Until the prison abuse scandal erupted two weeks ago, the Pentagon had refused to say who was being held, where, for how long or on what charges, if any. Defense officials had mostly barred reporters, lawyers and human rights groups from entering America’s growing network of foreign detention camps and prisons. The International Committee of the Red Cross, however, did visit.
Faced with the uproar, Army Maj. Gen. Donald J. Ryder told a Senate hearing this month that the military has investigated 25 deaths in custody over the last 18 months. He attributed 12 deaths to natural causes, such as heart attack or illness, or to undetermined factors because relatives had removed the bodies for burial.
Ryder said investigations into 10 other deaths were ongoing, and three more deaths -- including two in Iraq and one involving civilian contractors -- had been classified as homicides.
Pentagon officials Friday declined to provide specifics about deaths in detention. Thus, some confusion remains about precisely which cases are included on Ryder’s list.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups insist that the military’s list is incomplete. At a minimum, they say, the three homicides cited by Ryder do not include an Afghan named Mullah Habibullah and a taxi driver named Dilawar who died after they were interrogated at the Bagram air base and detention camp north of Kabul, the Afghan capital, in December 2002.
Army pathologists ruled both cases homicides due to “blunt force injuries” to the legs, military spokesmen said previously. Amnesty International alleged that both men were abused in a second-floor interrogation area of the Bagram detention facility. So far, no one has been publicly charged or reprimanded, and a Pentagon spokesman said Friday that both cases are being investigated.
“There’s been no public accounting of these two cases,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “That sends the signal that the Bush administration is not terribly serious about upholding international law.”
The previously undisclosed death of the Afghan who died of hypothermia predates Ryder’s list. U.S. intelligence sources said he died after he was soaked with water and left in an exposed cell on a night when temperatures plummeted.
The Afghan guards “hosed him down and chained him to a wall and it was cold in there and dank, and when they came back in the morning, he had died,” said one source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The sources said it wasn’t clear if CIA personnel or contract employees had directed, encouraged or were aware of the mistreatment. But a U.S. official said Friday that the CIA had referred the case to the Justice Department, which decided not to prosecute.
The CIA’s inspector-general is investigating three other deaths and has referred them to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. Only one of the three is known to be among the homicide cases Ryder cited.
In the first case, U.S. intelligence officials said a former Afghan local military commander named Abdul Wali died during interrogation by a CIA retiree who had been rehired as a private contractor. Wali died at a U.S. facility near Asadabad in Kunar province three days after his June 18 capture, officials said.
The second CIA case concerns Iraqi Maj. Gen. Abid Hamad Mahalawi, who collapsed and died after alleged mistreatment during interrogation near the western Iraqi city of Qaim on Nov. 26. A U.S. intelligence official said CIA operatives had questioned Mahalawi but were not present when he died.
U.S. intelligence officials suspect that Mahalawi, a former Republican Guard commander, played a role in financing the insurgency in Iraq.
Another Iraqi, identified as Manadal Jamaidi, died in November during interrogation by a CIA officer and a contractor translator at Abu Ghraib prison. Sources said that Jamaidi slumped over and died during questioning and that an autopsy indicated that internal injuries were the cause of death. Officials said the case was among the three homicides that Ryder cited.
Bryan Sierra, a Justice Department spokesman, said the department had received formal referrals from the CIA requesting criminal investigations into the treatment of detainees by “CIA-associated personnel.” But Sierra declined to say how many cases had been referred or how many involved CIA employees as opposed to private contractors.
The CIA has not said whether it was involved in the death of an Iraqi man who appeared in a grisly photograph showing his face bruised and his torso packed in ice in a black body bag. One of the military policemen accused of misconduct in the abuses at Abu Ghraib wrote in a diary that the CIA was involved in the man’s death.
The Pentagon has provided few specifics of deaths that Ryder said are still under investigation. But sketchy details of some cases were cited in a confidential report by the Red Cross in February and in a classified military report on prison facilities in Iraq by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba.
The Red Cross reported that last year its monitors “collected allegations of deaths as a result of harsh internment conditions, ill treatment, lack of medical attention or the combination thereof,” especially at a U.S. holding facility in the former Saddam Hussein Islamic School in Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
Red Cross officials in Washington and Geneva declined to provide further specifics. A Pentagon spokesman said he was unaware of the Red Cross allegations.
The Pentagon has provided some information on cases in which U.S. forces were accused of wrongdoing. Last month, two Marines were ordered to face general court-martial proceedings at California’s Camp Pendleton for the death of Nagem Sadoon Hatab, an Iraqi captive who died of a crushed throat at a detention camp near the southern city of Nasiriya on June 5. Charges include dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and assault.
In another case, the Army issued a letter of reprimand against a 4th Infantry Division battalion commander whose troops allegedly killed an Iraqi detainee Jan. 4 by forcing him and another man to jump off a bridge near the town of Samarra, according to a defense official. The case remains under investigation.
On March 29, a Marine at an undisclosed location shot and killed an Iraqi prisoner who reportedly tried to take his weapon. Officials said they determined that the Marine acted in self-defense and the shooting was not investigated as a crime, according to an Associated Press report.
Many of the deaths occurred during escape attempts. Eight Iraqi detainees were shot to death by U.S. guards during prison unrest, escapes or other incidents last year in Iraq, Red Cross and military reports show.
In April 2003, Red Cross monitors said a soldier at Camp Bucca opened fire “in a bid to rescue” a guard who allegedly was threatened by a prisoner of war “armed with a stick.” One POW was injured and another, whose name was not released, was killed.
On June 12, detainee 7166 -- a Baghdad man identified by the Red Cross as Akheel Abd Al Hussein -- was shot and killed after he and several others tried to escape from a holding area at Camp Cropper by crawling under a barbed-wire fence about 3 a.m. An Army investigation deemed the case a “justifiable homicide.” Commanders knew about the planned escape attempt a day in advance, Taguba reported.
At 4 p.m. the next day, U.S. guards in three watchtowers at Abu Ghraib prison opened fire when 30 to 40 detainees “rioted” and pelted military police with rocks, injuring at least one guard, according to the Taguba report. The tower guards wounded seven detainees and killed 22-year-old Alaa Jasim Hassan, who was reportedly inside his tent. Camp authorities concluded that the shooting was justified.
On Sept. 22, a military guard on a watchtower at Camp Bucca shot a detainee throwing stones. A military investigation concluded that the detainee “was the victim of a justifiable shooting.” But a Red Cross delegate and an interpreter, who witnessed the incident, reported that “at no point” did the victim “appear to pose a serious threat to the life or security of the guards, who could have responded to the situation with less brutal measures. The shooting showed a clear disregard for human life and security” of the detainees.
What appears to be a similar case produced the only known conviction for a death in custody. A U.S. soldier was court-martialed and convicted of using excessive force for shooting an Iraqi captive who threw a rock at a “forward operating base,” a defense official said. The soldier was reduced to the rank of private and discharged from the Army.
The worst shooting occurred in the early afternoon of Nov. 24 at Abu Ghraib, when a riot erupted in the so-called Ganci compound, injuring nine U.S. soldiers. The Taguba report said three detainees were killed.
Times staff writers Greg Miller, John Hendren and Richard B. Schmitt contributed to this report.