The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is charging that U.S. Army documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the mistreatment of detainees in Iraq was much more widespread than the government has admitted.
The advocacy group also accused the Army of failing to comply with a court order to release the documents and of manipulating the media "to minimize coverage and public access."
The ACLU said the reason for the delay in delivering the more than 1,200 pages of documents was "evident in the contents," which include reports of brutal beatings, "exercise until exhaustion," and sworn statements that soldiers were told to "beat the f**k out of" detainees. One file cites evidence that military intelligence personnel in Iraq "tortured" detainees held in their custody.
The treatment was reportedly meant to "soften up" detainees for interrogation. It occurred at the same time guards at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were carrying out similar tactics.
Army officials also released the first full accounting of 16 closed detainee-homicide investigations and eight open cases from Afghanistan and Iraq. The list shows that half of the cases (12) occurred in U.S. detention facilities abroad from late 2002 to late 2004.
And the ACLU has disclosed a Sept. 14, 2003 memo signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo A. Sanchez, then senior commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, authorizing 29 interrogation techniques, including 12 that "far exceeded limits established by the Army's own Field Manual."
The Sanchez memo allows for interrogation techniques including the use of military dogs specifically to "exploit Arab fear of dogs," sensory deprivation, and stress positions.
"At a minimum, the documents indicate a colossal failure of leadership," ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer told IPS. "The documents provide further evidence that abuse of prisoners was pervasive in Iraq. The government's contention that abuse was aberrational is completely unhinged from reality."
The documents were supposed to have been turned over to the ACLU on March 21, but were not released until late on March 25 – the Friday preceding Easter weekend.
"Select reporters received a CD-ROM with the documents before they were given to the ACLU," the group added.
The documents – along with more than 30,000 others to date – were released in response to a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.
The newest documents include:
- Evidence of abuse of a teenage detainee: A high school student had his jaw broken, requiring his mouth to be wired shut, and could eat only through a straw. The victim was told "to say that I've fallen down and no one beat me." The Army report concluded that the broken jaw was caused either as a result of a blow by a U.S. soldier or a collapse due to "complete muscle failure" from being excessively exercised.
- Death of a detainee with no history of medical problems: Abu Malik Kenami died while in detention in Mosul, Iraq. On the day he died, Kenami had been "punished with several ups and downs – a correctional technique of having a detainee stand up and then sit-down rapidly, always keeping them in constant motion … and ha[d] his hands flex-cuffed behind his back." He was also hooded, with "a sandbag placed over [his] head." The file states that "[t]he cause of Abu Malik Kenami's death will never be known because an autopsy was never performed on him."
Soldiers were told to "beat the fuck out of detainees": Army documents include sworn statements that soldiers were told in August 2003 to "take the detainee[s] out back and beat the fuck out of them."
Perceptions of chain-of-command endorsement of retribution: A military intelligence team saw soldiers kicking blindfolded and "zipcuffed" detainees several times in the sides while yelling profanities at them. The investigation concludes that at least three military personnel abused the detainees. It adds that some of the soldiers "may perceive that the chain-of-command is endorsing 'payback' by allowing the units most affected by suspected detainee actions to play the greatest role in bringing those suspects to justice."
In a separate development, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which joined the ACLU in the FOIA case, said "at least 26 prisoners who died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002 were likely the victims of criminal homicide."
CCR released a series of documents surrounding one unexplained death in Mosul, Iraq, obtained through a FOIA request with the ACLU, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace. CCR said the documents derive from "what appears to be a very brief investigation of the death of a prisoner" in December 2003 in an Army Brigade Holding Area in Mosul, Iraq.
One soldier reports, "He continued to mess with his mask/sandbag so I took his handcuffs off and put them behind his back and smoked him for another 20 minutes before I sat him down."
At night, the prisoner had to sleep with the sandbag on his head and his hands cuffed behind his back. On the morning of the fourth day, he was found dead in his cell. According to the report, an autopsy was supposed to be performed, but no record of it was provided. As the result of another investigation, the Army has decided not to prosecute 17 U.S. soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, according to a new accounting released by the Army last week.
Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy, and negligent homicide.
The Defense Department declined to comment further on any of its reports.
April 2, 2005
William Fisher writes for Inter Press Service.