Mock Executions of Iraqi Detainees Cited by Army

Records requested by the ACLU describe a slaying by a soldier and various forms of abuse. A captain forced a man to dig his own grave.

By Mark Mazzetti and John Hendren

Los Angeles Times

May 18, 2005

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army captain forced an Iraqi detainee to dig his own grave and then ordered troops to pretend to shoot the detainee in one of several mock executions described in investigative documents released Tuesday by the Army.

Capt. Shawn L. Martin of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was convicted of aggravated assault and battery in a court-martial proceeding for the mock execution episode, an Army spokesman said. He was sentenced to 45 days' confinement and fined $12,000.

On July 13, 2003, Martin drove the blindfolded Iraqi, a suspect in a roadside bombing against American troops two days earlier, into the desert near Ramadi, according to military documents and Army officials.

Martin handed him a shovel and told him to dig his own grave, soldiers under his command testified during an investigation.

A sergeant said he fired a round over the Iraqi's head on the captain's orders. Afterward, the prisoner was released.

Army officials said the incident violated rules contained in the Army's field manual, which explicitly prohibits mock executions as a form of torture

The case was described in 50 pages of sworn testimony and disciplinary records that were among 2,600 pages of investigative documents, incident reports, medical forms and other documents related to detainee abuse, which the Army released after the American Civil Liberties Union sought them in a Freedom of Information Act request.

Included in the documents were reports of other mock executions, a homicide and the description of an incident in which a soldier allegedly goaded a prisoner by holding up the Jewish Star of David symbol while threatening other Arabs in the room.

Lt. Col. Jeremy Martin, an Army spokesman, said the documents showed that the Army thoroughly investigated and prosecuted abuse allegations regardless of the rank of the soldiers involved.

"The investigations go wherever the truth leads," he said.

The documents include scant details on a single page about the killing of an Iraqi. A private with the 1st Infantry Division was convicted of manslaughter for killing an Iraqi detainee on Feb. 28, 2004, as troops searched the area around Taal Al Jal, north of Baghdad.

The soldier, who was not named by the Army, was sentenced to three years in prison. His rank was reduced from private first class to private, and he was given a dishonorable discharge.

In the case of Capt. Martin, soldiers said that immediately after the roadside bomb exploded near his troops, Martin kicked detainees who were wearing plastic handcuffs and pointed a gun at one. "I'll kill you…. What do you know?" the soldiers recounted Martin saying to one Iraqi.

The captain also captured eight people in a vehicle and led the driver away from the others, soldiers said. Then he fired a shot "like he killed him, to scare the rest of the detainees," a soldier wrote.

Later, another soldier wrote in a sworn statement, soldiers quoted the captain as telling them they "shouldn't talk about it" and should "have your stories straight."

The Army documents also detailed two mock executions of Iraqi detainees caught looting an ammunition factory in June 2003.

After the investigation was completed, an Army tank platoon leader with the 1st Armored Division agreed to a discharge to avoid a general court-martial. The documents did not indicate whether a sergeant who was said to have been working with the platoon leader was prosecuted.

According to the documents released Tuesday, the surname of the platoon leader — a second lieutenant — was Yancey; his first name was blacked out. The sergeant's entire name was blacked out.

In the first incident, the papers say, Yancey shot a gun just to the right of the detainee's head.

The officer later told military investigators that wild dogs were attacking him and that he fired to scare the dogs off. Several military witnesses, however, said the dogs around the ammunition site were not threatening the soldiers.

The military investigation into the incident uncovered evidence that Yancey often administered "street justice" and enjoyed scaring detainees.

Two days later, the platoon came across a father and his sons loading metal onto a truck at the ammunition factory. After detaining the Iraqis, a soldier recounted, the sergeant asked the father, "Which one do you want to die?" — referring to the man's sons.

Several soldiers said they recalled the sergeant taking one of the sons around the corner of a building and firing a shot.

"I yelled to him but he either ignored me or didn't hear me and proceeded with the boy around the building. We heard a single shot," one sworn statement read.

When asked why he did not inquire what happened after he heard the shot, one soldier answered, "The less I know, the faster I go home."

Yancey's commanding officer, a colonel whose name was also blacked out, wrote, "I do not see a requirement to tarnish [Yancey's] record for life with a federal conviction and dismissal at a general court-martial."

The "disgrace" of his dismissal was punishment enough, the colonel wrote.