Abuse of Captives More Widespread, Says Army Survey

Published: May 26, 2004

An Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.

The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on "blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia."

Among previously unknown incidents are the abuse of detainees by Army interrogators from a National Guard unit attached to the Third Infantry Division, who are described in a document obtained by The New York Times as having "forced into asphyxiation numerous detainees in an attempt to obtain information" during a 10-week period last spring.

The document, dated May 5, is a synopsis prepared by the Criminal Investigation Command at the request of Army officials grappling with intense scrutiny prompted by the circulation the preceding week of photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. It lists the status of investigations into three dozen cases, including the continuing investigation into the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib.

In one of the oldest cases, involving the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan in December 2002, enlisted personnel from an active-duty military intelligence unit at Fort Bragg, N.C., and an Army Reserve military-police unit from Ohio are believed to have been "involved at various times in assaulting and mistreating the detainee."

The Army summary is consistent with recent public statements by senior military officials, who have said the Army is actively investigating nine suspected homicides of prisoners held by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in late 2002.

But the details paint a broad picture of misconduct, and show that in many cases among the 37 prisoners who have died in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army did not conduct autopsies and says it cannot determine the causes of the deaths.

In his speech on Monday night, President Bush portrayed the abuse of prisoners by American soldiers in narrow terms. He described incidents at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, which were the first and most serious to come to light, as involving actions "by a few American troops who disregarded our country and disregarded our values."

According to the Army summary, the deaths that are now being investigated most vigorously by Army officials may be those from Afghanistan in December 2002, where two prisoners died in one week at what was known as the Bagram Collection Point, where interrogations were overseen by a platoon from Company A, 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, from Fort Bragg.

The document says the investigation into the two deaths "is continuing with recent re-interviews," both of military intelligence personnel from Fort Bragg and of Army Reserve military police officers from Ohio and surrounding states, who were serving as guards at the facility. It was not clear from the document exactly which Army Reserve unit was being investigated.

On March 4, 2003, The New York Times reported on the two deaths, noting that the cause given on one of the death certificates was "homicide," a result of "blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease." It was signed by an Army pathologist.

Both deaths were ruled homicides within days, but military spokesmen in Afghanistan initially portrayed at least one as being the result of natural causes. Personnel from the unit in charge of interrogations at the facility, led by Capt. Carolyn Wood, were later assigned to Iraq, and to the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib.

Lt. Col. Billy Buckner, a spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, said in an e-mail message on Monday that no one from the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion had yet been disciplined in connection with any deaths or other misconduct in Iraq. He declined to say if anyone from the unit was the subject of an ongoing investigation.