6 military police are charged with abusing Iraqi detainees

17 troops were suspended after allegations surfaced

March 21, 2004|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The U.S. military announced yesterday that it had charged six military police officers with abusing Iraqi detainees held in Abu Ghraib prison, an institution infamous under former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for its brutal treatment of prisoners

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the 800th Military Police Brigade officers were charged with six crimes including cruelty and maltreatment of prisoners, assault, and indecent acts with another, as well as conspiracy and dereliction of duty.

"That's the kind of cancer that you have to cut out quickly. You've got to address it very, very quickly," Kimmitt said.

The six charged were among 17 U.S. troops - including a battalion commander and a company commander - suspended from duty in January after abuse allegations surfaced.

All 17 remain suspended pending the outcome of an investigation by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division Command.

The 17 soldiers are in Iraq, said Kimmitt, who declined to identify them. If a court-martial is held, the trial could be either in Iraq or elsewhere, at the discretion of the military commander in the Iraq theater, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

It was not clear what punishment the officers would face if convicted. Last year, a lieutenant colonel in the Tikrit region who was charged with shooting his gun near a detainee to intimidate him into a confession and allowing his soldiers to beat the detainee was allowed to pay a fine and retire from the military.

In the case of the six military police officers, two investigations were initiated, an administrative one examining possible failures in the chain of command that could have allowed such crimes to occur and a criminal investigation into the acts themselves.

Yesterday's announcement marks the referral of the criminal investigation to the military equivalent of a grand jury.

The human rights group Amnesty International says it has recorded allegations of maltreatment and says it has documented several cases of abuse. In only a handful of cases have U.S. troops been charged with the abuse of Iraqi detainees since the start of major combat.

The Army discharged three soldiers for mistreating Iraqi detainees at a detention center in Iraq called Camp Bucca. The action stemmed from an incident May 12 in which investigators found that at least one detainee was held down while soldiers beat and kicked him at the urging of their superior, Master Sgt. Lisa Girman.

In October, eight U.S. Marine reservists, including two officers, were charged with mistreating Iraqi prisoners of war at a detention facility called Camp Whitehorse. Military prosecutors allege that an Iraqi man died at Camp Whitehorse in early June after being dragged from a holding cell by a U.S. guard.

Meanwhile yesterday, a Marine was killed by guerrillas in the tense area near Fallujah, the U.S. military said. No other details were available.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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