The Army yesterday reported 16 more criminal investigations into possible misconduct by U.S. soldiers against detainees and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The revised figures brought to 85 the number of inquiries by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division into detainee deaths and alleged assaults and thefts by U.S. soldiers in the region over the past year and a half. Counting 22 other investigative actions by commanders in the field, the cases total 107 and have involved at least 111 Iraqis and Afghanis, Army officials said.
Much of the rise reflected a surge in accusations by Iraqis and Afghanis after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a senior Army official said. The widely publicized revelations about mistreatment of detainees at the prison on the outskirts of Baghdad encouraged others to come forward with complaints about the conduct of U.S. troops, the official said.
Whether most of the accusations involve recent incidents or ones that occurred some time ago could not be determined from the list of statistics provided by the Army. But at least one new death investigation was triggered by the killing of an Iraqi last month after a high-speed car chase near Kufa, a restive Shiite city in south-central Iraq.
A brief statement issued yesterday by the U.S. military command in Baghdad said the killing, which occurred on the afternoon of May 21, may have violated the rules of engagement that govern when U.S. soldiers can use deadly force.
According to the statement, the car chase began after U.S. troops from the 1st Armored Division "made contact with a motorcade." During the chase, the driver and a passenger of an Iraqi vehicle were wounded, the driver seriously.
A U.S. soldier, not identified in the statement, then shot and killed the driver at close range.
No further details were made public by U.S. military spokesmen. But the spare U.S. statement seemed to describe the same shootout reported earlier by aides to Moqtada Sadr, the Shiite cleric whose militia has battled U.S. forces in recent weeks.
Sadr's office said on May 21 that an aide to the cleric, Mohammed Tabtabaie, had been captured after being wounded when U.S. forces shot at his car in Kufa. Tabtabaie's driver was also reported killed.
In releasing the updated figures, the Army provided no information about the people, places or times involved. In the past, military officials have cited concerns about privacy rights and judicial process to justify keeping disclosures to a minimum.
Yesterday's tally did identify many cases as already completed. But even for these, the Army offered nothing that would shed light on any of the outcomes.
"I have absolutely no idea whether anyone was charged or not in most of them," an Army spokesman said. "CID is not disclosing any more details at this time."
The new numbers were based on data available as of May 28. They showed 36 death investigations, a rise of three over the last report two weeks ago. Of these, 31 involved Iraqis and five involved Afghanis.
Cases of alleged abuses totaled 49 -- 45 of them involving Iraqis. The investigations in Iraq divided into 24 assault cases, such as kicking or punching, two sexual assault cases and 19 theft cases. The investigations in Afghanistan included one sexual assault case and three other assault cases.
Twelve death investigations remain open -- nine in Iraq and three in Afghanistan. The same goes for one of the sexual assault cases in Iraq, 12 other assault cases there and six of the theft cases. All four abuse investigations in Afghanistan have yet to be completed, according to the Army's new list.
In a related development, the Acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report yesterday that said the mistreatment of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison could amount to war crimes.
The report by Bertrand Ramcharan noted that "willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment" of detainees constitutes a grave breach of international law, adding that such acts "might be designated as war crimes by a competent tribunal."
The report called for "full accountability" regarding the mistreatment of prisoners at detention facilities throughout Iraq. It recommended a "high-level international ombudsman" be designated to monitor U.S. and other coalition troops while they remain in the country.
State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli declined to comment on whether U.S. soldiers may have committed war crimes at Abu Ghraib, but defended the U.S. military justice system as sufficient to deal with those responsible for the abuses.
Special correspondent R. Scott Billquist in Geneva contributed to this report.