By Bradley Graham
Over the past year and a half, the Army has opened investigations into at least 91 cases of possible misconduct by U.S. soldiers against detainees and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, a total not previously reported and one that points to a broader range of wrongful behavior than defense officials have acknowledged.
The figure, provided by a senior Army official, extends beyond the much-publicized abuse of detainees in military-run prisons to include the mistreatment of dozens of Iraqis in U.S. custody outside detention centers. It covers not only cases that resulted in death but also those that involved nonlethal assaults. It also includes as many as 18 instances of U.S. soldiers in Iraq allegedly stealing money, jewelry or other property.
Previous statistics cited by Army officials have tended to avoid an aggregate number of misconduct cases or have given a lower figure for alleged mistreatment of detainees and civilians outside detention facilities. Officials also have not previously disclosed the number of investigations into reports of soldiers stealing from Iraqis.
Taken together, the 91 cases indicate misconduct by U.S. troops wider in type and greater in number than suggested by the focus simply on the mistreatment of Iraqis held at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. The majority of the cases under investigation occurred in Iraq, although the Army has not provided an exact accounting of all the locations.
President Bush and other senior administration officials have sought to explain the abuses at Abu Ghraib as reflecting the aberrant behavior of a few low-ranking soldiers last fall, graphically exposed in photographs and an internal Army report that emerged a month ago. But the Army's list of investigations appears to bolster the contention of others, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, that misconduct by U.S. forces has been more extensive -- and its consequences more damaging -- than can be blamed on the troubled actions of a small group.
Although the new figures show at least 59 of the 91 investigations are now closed, the Army has reported the disciplining of only several soldiers. According to the senior Army official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the assault cases have led to at least 14 courts-martial and seven nonjudicial punishments.
But the official had no information on who was prosecuted, for what or with what results. The Army has been slow to make these details public despite requests from Congress and news organizations for more specifics about all the investigations, whether completed or ongoing.
The lack of detail about many of the cases has made it difficult to assess the full significance of the reported misconduct. But the few specifics that have emerged about some of the death cases point to the involvement of an assortment of Army units and to abusive behavior that stretches over a long period of time, from late 2002 to spring 2004.
Reflecting the concern of senior Pentagon officials that the scope of the misconduct may indeed stem from deeper problems with training, organization and command, the inspectors general of the Army and the Army Reserve are engaged in broad reviews of policies and practices on the handling of detainees. A separate probe of the role played by military intelligence personnel also is being conducted by a senior intelligence officer.
The criminal investigations parallel these administrative inquiries. They have intensified in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, with Army investigators taking a new look at some death cases that were initially attributed to natural causes or that have dragged on unresolved for months.
Reports about the criminal probes have dribbled out in bits and pieces. Army spokesmen said late last week that top officials were trying to put together a comprehensive record of the probes.
Of the 91 investigations, 42 involve alleged abuse inside detention facilities, and 49 deal with allegations of misconduct outside, the senior Army official said.
The inside cases can be split into two groups: Thirty of them are related to the deaths of 34 individuals; the other 12 concern assaults -- including kicking, punching or other abusive action -- on an unspecified number of detainees.
Half the death cases have been attributed to natural causes or undetermined factors. Four cases, involving eight detainee deaths, were ruled justifiable homicides, meaning U.S. soldiers were deemed to have killed in self-defense or to prevent escapes.
But 10 other homicides had no such justification. Only one case so far has resulted in disciplinary action, with a soldier being demoted and discharged after shooting a prisoner who was throwing stones at a detention center northwest of Baghdad last Sept. 11. Another homicide case, involving a contractor employed by the CIA, has been turned over to the Justice Department.
Investigations into the other eight homicides remain open amid evidence the dead detainees were assaulted before or during interrogation sessions.
Of the alleged prison assaults that did not result in death, disciplinary action has been reported in two cases. One is the main Abu Ghraib case, in which seven military police reservists have been charged. In the other case, three military intelligence soldiers were alleged to have sexually assaulted a female detainee at Abu Ghraib in October. Investigators failed to confirm the assault, but the three soldiers were faulted for being in the prison's female wing without permission, fined several hundred dollars each and demoted.
Of the 49 cases of alleged misconduct outside detention facilities, three involved deaths, 28 centered on assaults in which soldiers allegedly kicked or punched Iraqi civilians or fired weapons to frighten them, and 18 dealt with thefts that occurred during raids on houses or other operations in Iraq. The theft cases were first reported yesterday by the New York Times.
The three death cases were described briefly by U.S. officials at a Pentagon briefing May 21. In one, a soldier shot and killed an Afghani who had attempted to grab a weapon. In another instance, an Iraqi drowned after being forced off a bridge. In the third case, a U.S. soldier shot an Iraqi who had lunged at a sergeant escorting the Iraqi.
Investigations into 39 of the 49 outside cases have been completed, the senior Army official said.
A large majority of the 91 cases -- 69 of them -- are being handled by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division, which is responsible for probing crimes that may involve Army personnel. As a matter of policy, the organization investigates every death of a detainee in U.S. custody.
To shield their work from command influence, the criminal investigators operate independently of commanders in the field. But their reports then go to the commanders, who are responsible for deciding whether to bring charges, take nonjudicial action or do nothing.
The remaining 22 investigations, all involving allegations of detainee abuse that occurred outside military-run detention centers, have been conducted by other commands that also have authority to initiate probes. These cases have run the gamut from kicking detainees to trying to intimidate them by withholding water if they refused to cooperate, the senior Army official said.