At one point, Army investigators told superiors that their findings were inconclusive, said an Army officer who served in Afghanistan -- one of several officials who discussed the case on the condition of anonymity because the investigation's results haven't been officially released. The investigators were then ordered to re-open the inquiry, he said, and led investigators to uncover other suspected incidents of mistreatment unrelated to the deaths.
Should charges be filed, he said, it will be "good news" for the Army because it will demonstrate that the investigative process, while prolonged, produces results, he said.
Another Army officer briefed on some aspects of the case, however, said the Afghanistan findings will raise new questions about the Army's uniformed and civilian leadership. Foremost in his mind, he said, was that the Army had so few military intelligence units available that the 519th was deployed twice in two years.
"Why are we so short that the same unit had to be moved from Afghanistan to Iraq?" he asked.
The charges being contemplated are not related to a case in which a former Army Special Forces soldier working as a contractor for the CIA was charged with assault in the death of an Afghan prisoner in June 2003. David A. Passaro was charged in June with beating a detainee held at a small base at Asadabad, near the Pakistani border.
Nor are the charges being prepared as the result of a review of U.S. military detention practices in Afghanistan being carried out by Army Brig. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., the deputy U.S. commander there. But that inquiry -- one of 11 formal Pentagon studies of military detention initiated since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in the spring -- is expected to be released at about the same time the charges are brought against the soldiers in the Bagram homicide case, officials said.
"It was not an investigation," said one Pentagon official who has read the current draft of the Jacoby report. "It's more a review of where things are in Afghanistan today."
Yet another review, looking into whether Special Operations troops abused detainees in or near Iraq, also is expected to be released in about two weeks, Pentagon officials said.