Marines Staged Mock Executions of Juveniles

By Richard A. Serrano

Los Angeles Times

3:17 PM PST, December 14, 2004

WASHINGTON — Marines in Iraq conducted mock executions of juvenile prisoners during the war there last year, burned and tortured other prisoners with electrical shocks, and allegedly warned one Navy medic to keep his "mouth shut" about abuse and threatened to kill another medic if he assisted an injured Iraqi soldier or civilian, according to investigators' records.

The new revelations of detainee mistreatment, disclosed today after the ACLU obtained them in a lawsuit against the federal government, for the first time detail case histories in which 11 Marines have been punished for abusing prisoners and two were disciplined for falsely boasting about killing and torturing detainees.

Further, the records describe government officials deep in debate about what to do with the bodies of detainees killed while in the custody of U.S. troops and of Navy criminal investigators scrambling to keep up with the growing number of abuse cases after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal became public last spring.

"Heads up," an assistant special agent-in-charge of the Navy's investigative field office in the Middle East warned his superiors in an urgent e-mail dispatched at 6 a.m. on June 14. He was desperate for more investigators.

"Case load is exploding, high visibility cases are on the rise," he advised. "We have scrubbed all of our personnel and have no other trained personnel available to deploy."

The documents also tell of Marines returning from Iraq suffering from deep psychiatric problems about what they saw and did in Iraq. Some appeared delusional about single-handedly mowing down enemy soldiers in combat.

One said he was feted at a special dinner with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Another bragged of being honored at a homecoming parade. Neither event had occurred.

The issue of prisoner abuse continues to tarnish the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq, particularly because a large insurgent force rose up against American troops in what Washington had assumed would be a short and decisive conflict.

But because the allegations and photographs from Abu Ghraib shocked much of the world, more revelations have been coming forward of abuse in other parts of Iraq, as well as in U.S. operations in Afghanistan and at the prison compound on the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Abu Ghraib scandal centered on Army National Guard soldiers and reservists working in a prison setting. But the documents made public today go further in dealing largely with Marines in various field operations in Iraq.

In some of the incidents, the new records show, military superiors have handed down sentences of up to a year in confinement after finding Marines guilty of offenses ranging from assault to "cruelty and mistreatment."

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU in New York, laid responsibility for the problem at the Pentagon.

"This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order," he said.

Lawrence Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said that despite the high number of abuse investigations, the military is taking every allegation seriously. "A number of the cases were disposed of through courts-martial or nonjudicial proceedings," he noted.

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) called for a complete public accounting of all detainee abuse records, rather than the steady release of documents that has followed the Abu Ghraib scandal.