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Army Closed Many Abuse Cases Early

Few Detainee-Treatment Inquiries Led to Penalties, Documents Show

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, January 25, 2005; Page A01

Army personnel have admitted to beating or threatening to kill Iraqi detainees and stealing money from Iraqi civilians but have not been charged with criminal conduct, according to newly released Army documents.

Only a handful of the 54 investigations of alleged detainee abuse and other illicit activities detailed in the documents led to recommended penalties as severe as a court-martial or discharge from military service. Most led to administrative fines or simply withered because investigators could not find victims or evidence.

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The documents, which date from mid-2003 to mid-2004 and were obtained by five nongovernmental organizations through a joint lawsuit, suggest that the pursuit of military justice in Iraq has been hampered by the investigators' closure of many cases without reaching a determination of likely innocence or guilt.

In the case of Hadi Abdul Hasson, an Iraqi who died in U.S. custody at a prison near the southern port of Umm Qasr, Army criminal investigators were unable to locate meaningful prison or military records on his capture or fate.

"Due to inadequate recordkeeping, this office could only estimate that Mr. Hasson possibly died between April-September 2003," and so the case was closed, the Army's Criminal Investigation Command said in October. Hasson's death was evidently not noticed until mid-2004, when disclosures of detainee abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad prompted a review of records and sparked many new abuse allegations by Iraqis.

The newly released reports detail allegations similar to those that surrounded the documented abuse at Abu Ghraib -- such as beatings with rifle butts, prolonged hooding, sodomy, electric shocks, stressful shackling, and the repeated withholding of clothing and food -- but they also encompass alleged offenses at military prisons and checkpoints elsewhere in Iraq. The elite soldiers with Army Special Forces and other Special Operations personnel stationed in various parts of Iraq were also implicated in some of the abuse but did not admit involvement, according to the documents.

The reports, drawn directly from Army case files, also explain for the first time exactly how many of the abuse allegations were investigated and adjudicated.

A January 2004 probe, for example, found that nine soldiers in the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Carson, Colo., and deployed in Iraq "were possibly involved in a criminal conspiracy to rob Iraqi citizens of currency" at traffic-control points. Two members of the unit affirmed the plan in sworn statements and named its participants. But the investigation was terminated after the commander "indicated an intent to take action amounting to less than a court proceeding," the report said.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which published the documents on its Web site, said they showed that the investigations of torture and abuse "have been woefully inadequate" and, in some cases, a whitewash. Army spokesman Dov Schwartz responded that "the Army has aggressively investigated all credible allegations of detainee abuse and held soldiers accountable for their actions."

Schwartz said that more than 300 criminal investigations so far have resulted in some type of action against more than 100 military personnel. The 54 investigations outlined in the released documents are among those 300.

Some of the cases involved petty crimes as well as assaults. In one case, a platoon of infantry troops beat Iraqis and stole money, calling it a "Robin Hood tax," to support a fund used to buy soda, food, beer, whiskey and gin for the platoon. In another case, two soldiers burst into a civilian's home, stating they were looking for weapons, and stole cash and jewelry. In another, two other soldiers pushed an Iraqi man into the back of their five-ton truck, drove him to an isolated area, stole his watch and money, and punched him in the face.

Many of the participants in such crimes were referred for courts-martial, while those who participated in beatings or abuse generally received lesser punishments, according to the documents.

An officer in the 20th Field Artillery Battalion deployed in Taji, for example, was given an unspecified nonjudicial punishment and fined $2,500 after he admitted to threatening to kill an Iraqi, firing a pistol next to the man's head, placing the man's head in a barrel, and watching as members of his unit pummeled the man's chest and face.

One of those who administered the beating told investigators that the officer "had given us a talk about how some circumstances bring about extra force." Another said the officer told them after it was over: "This night stays within" the unit. "We all gave a hooah" before parting, the soldier said. The document indicates that four soldiers received suspended nonjudicial punishments and small fines, while a decision on a fifth soldier was pending.


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