Soldiers tried to cover up alleged abuses, files reveal

Iraqi detainee threatened, posed Afghan photographs destroyed, records show

February 18, 2005|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

American soldiers accused of detainee abuses tried to cover up their actions in at least two cases, allegedly threatening an Iraqi man with indefinite detention unless he recanted his claims of severe beatings and destroying photographs showing mock executions of Afghan detainees to prevent "another public outrage" after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke, military records released yesterday show.

The documents, internal files from eight newly disclosed Army criminal investigations, add to what human rights advocates say is a pattern of abuse at U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The case from Afghanistan also suggests for the first time that military officials were aware of pictures separate from Abu Ghraib that showed soldiers humiliating detainees for amusement.

Pictures not released

The photographs from Fire Base Tycze in southern Afghanistan showed soldiers pointing pistols and rifles at the heads of hooded and bound detainees in late 2003 or early 2004, according to the documents. The pictures have not been made public and were not among the thousands of government documents obtained and released by the American Civil Liberties Union in a continuing Freedom of Information lawsuit.

According to the Army files released by the ACLU yesterday, one soldier told investigators last summer that no detainees were physically abused, but he realized the posed pictures were wrong after photographs of naked and hooded Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib touched off an international uproar. Fearing a similar scandal, he got rid of copies of the photos, he told investigators.

"I knew this was a problem and should have never been done. I realized there would be another public outrage if these photographs got out so they were destroyed," the soldier said.

But a CD containing about 30 pictures was later turned over to Afghan authorities.

Agents with the Army's Criminal Investigation Command found probable cause to believe that eight soldiers connected to the 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum, N.Y., could face charges of dereliction of duty in connection with the photos, but not the more serious allegation of aggravated assault, according to the investigative files.

In a statement released Feb. 10 after the most recent files were turned over to the ACLU, Army officials said the files showed a commitment to pursuing all claims of detainee abuse and noted more than 100 military members have faced charges in connection with abuse investigations.

"The Army remains committed to addressing identified problems in detainee operations and to communicating the progress to the public," the statement said.

Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU staff attorney, said yesterday that the government has yet to release thousands of documents and other items, including the photographs from the newly disclosed Afghanistan case.

"Those are photographs that we believe the public is entitled to see," Jaffer said.

Call for Gonzales to act

ACLU officials this week also called for new Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate any abuse cases that could be pursued in civilian court. Former Attorney General John Ashcroft declined to do so, although the department's inspector general is investigating reports by FBI agents about detainee abuses at Guantanamo.

Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Gonzales, said yesterday that he could not confirm whether the attorney general had received the ACLU's request. But Madden said: "Attorney General Gonzales, as he stated during his confirmation proceedings, will pursue any allegations of torture or misconduct."

Pressured to recant

In one of the cases released yesterday, an Iraqi detainee suspected of financing insurgency attacks in Tikrit in late 2003 claimed that Americans dressed in civilian clothing beat him in the head and stomach, dislocated his arms, beat his legs with a baseball bat, stepped on his nose until it broke, and stuck an unloaded pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

Medical reports confirmed part of the detainee's account, according to the investigative file. Additionally, another soldier confirmed that special task force interrogators in civilian clothing had interviewed the detainee. But after the detainee initially reported the abuse, he backed off his claims. According to the documents released yesterday, the man said he was told by a U.S. soldier to sign a statement recanting the allegations or face indefinite detention.

"I swear under oath that I do not want to file a complaint against the American Forces so I can get released," the man said in a translated statement.

The Army reports show that investigators were initially trusting of the man's statement. One agent noted in an e-mail that "we got an 8 page statement and he supposedly got his [expletive] kicked. ... He gave a pretty detailed statement and good descriptions."

But the case was closed this year after investigators said they could not prove or disprove the allegations and later concluded that the offenses "were not committed as initially alleged," noting problems with inconsistencies in the detainee's statements and medical records, and a lack of witnesses.

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