Army discovers an increase in detainee deaths

At least 37 prisoner cases in 2-year period reviewed

8 more than previously reported

Disclosure comes amid more prison abuse photos

May 22, 2004|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Army criminal investigators are looking into the deaths of at least 37 detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past two years, officials said yesterday, eight more cases than they reported two weeks ago.

Officials said some cases involve multiple deaths. But they could not immediately provide a precise figure on the total number of prisoner deaths being investigated.

Eight of the cases involve detainees who died before or after being interrogated, according to two officials who briefed reporters at the Pentagon on condition of anonymity.

Thirty of the cases involve deaths inside U.S.-run facilities; three were outside. Fifteen cases were determined by American authorities to have been deaths by natural or undetermined cause, the senior defense official said.

Of the 15 possible homicide cases thought to have happened inside detention facilities, four were categorized as justifiable homicides, two as homicides, and nine are still under investigation, the official said. Eight of those nine have been classified as homicides involving suspected assaults on detainees before or during questioning.

Six of the nine unresolved cases happened in Iraq - including two at Abu Ghraib prison - and three in Afghanistan. The 33 total cases date from the summer of 2002 to the present.

Congress was briefed on the new numbers yesterday, officials said.

Of the three deaths determined to have happened outside U.S. detention facilities, one involved a soldier who shot to death an Afghan who had lunged toward a weapon, the senior military officer said.

Another involved an Iraqi who drowned after he was forced off a bridge by a U.S. soldier. In the third case, a U.S. soldier fatally shot an Iraqi who had lunged at another U.S. soldier, the official said. In the four cases of justifiable homicide, there were a total of eight detainee deaths.

Three of the four cases were at Abu Ghraib prison. In one, in November 2003, four Iraqis were killed. An April 2004 case at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq resulted in two deaths. There were also cases at Abu Ghraib in April 2003 and March 2004 that each involved one death.

Meanwhile, officials said they had closed a sexual assault case involving three soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in October, at a time when a team from the International Committee for the Red Cross was complaining about abusive conditions at the prison, including detainees who were kept naked in dark cells.

The three soldiers received administrative punishment, which likely resulted in reduction and rank and forfeiture of pay, for kissing and fondling a female detainee, a military official said.

Also, the senior military official said the Army Criminal Investigation Command has concluded, after an internal inquiry, that no Army criminal agents were involved in wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib.

In the handwritten notes of Sgt. Ivan L. "Chip" Frederick, one of the seven soldiers from the 372nd Military Police Company of Cresaptown who have been criminally charged, two Army criminal agents were mentioned as having encouraged or witnessed abuses.

One of the Army criminal agents told soldiers to "stress one prisoner out," while another was present when a soldier placed an unruly detainee in a headlock, according to Frederick's notes, which included partial names of the agents.

"We did an internal inquiry into that," said the senior military official. "We found that was not true."

In another development, the Justice Department, at the request of the Pentagon, has opened an investigation into an unnamed civilian contractor in Iraq. It is the first criminal inquiry that the department has opened in the prison abuse scandal.

"We remain committed to taking all appropriate action within our jurisdiction regarding allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners," said Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman. "The department will have no further comment at this time."

Disclosure of the additional deaths in detention came as graphic new details emerged of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the main U.S.-run prison in Iraq, including allegations of prisoners being forced to walk on all fours and bark like dogs, being sexually fondled by female soldiers and being forced to pull food out of toilets.

The Washington Post, which published the accounts, reported that they were based on sworn statements to U.S. investigators. The Post also obtained new photos, including one showing a prisoner being threatened by a dog and videos showing what appear to be soldiers striking detainees.

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