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'It Looked Weird and Felt Wrong'

"Personnel at the ICE regularly see detainees who are, in essence, hostages," he charged. "They are normally arrested by coalition forces because they are family of individuals who have been targeted by a brigade based on accusations that may or may not be true, to be released, supposedly, when and if the targeted individual surrenders to coalition forces."

In fact, he said, the U.S. military tended not to keep its end of the bargain because the detention system was so badly operated: "In reality, these detainees are transferred to Abu Ghraib prison and become lost in the coalition detention system regardless of whether the targeted individual surrenders himself."

This coercive taking of such prisoners had at least the "tacit approval" of senior leaders in the division, he charged, because it had been discussed in front of them at briefings.

The military intelligence commander, Christman, impressed by the staff sergeant's arguments, concluded it would be wrong to fault him for lack of supervision, and so decided against making the written reprimand part of the staff sergeant's permanent record.

A later review by the office of the Army inspector general said interrogators reported "detainees arriving at the cage badly beaten. Many beatings occurred after the detainees were zip-tied by some units in 4ID."

When asked about the report, Odierno said he hadn't read it or been informed of the charge.

Revenge of the Tigris River

The most striking instance of abuse in the 4th Infantry Division occurred shortly after Jan. 2, 2004, when Capt. Eric Paliwoda, an engineering company commander in the division's 3rd Brigade, was killed by a mortar attack while in his command post.

Lt. Col. Nathan Sassaman, the commander of the battalion of which Paliwoda's company was part, held the mortally wounded officer before putting him aboard a medical evacuation helicopter. "When Captain Paliwoda died, it pretty much ruined the war for me," Sassaman said later in sworn testimony.

The death of Paliwoda left the unit in the mood for revenge -- and it knew how to exact it. That chilly January night, soldiers from the unit set out to kill specific Iraqis. About 9:30, a patrol from Alpha Company was stopping drivers outside of Samarra who were violating the curfew. The patrol was led by Lt. Jack Saville.

The first car Saville's men stopped had a family returning from a hospital, where the mother had just given birth. They were told to go home. The second was a city council member. The third was a white pickup truck.

Its two occupants were handcuffed, driven to the Tigris River, and forced from the ledge of a pump house into the river, a drop of about six feet. One of the men, Zaidoun Fadel Hassoun, age 19, drowned, according to the other, Marwan Fadel Hassoun, 23, his cousin.

At first, the soldiers insisted to Army investigators that they had released the men -- without mentioning that they had "released" them into the river. Pressed, they subsequently said they'd seen both men swim to shore and emerge.

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