New York Times
September 17, 2004
KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 16 - Sgt. James P. Boland, a reserve military police soldier from Cincinnati, watched as a subordinate beat an Afghan prisoner, Mullah Habibullah, 30, the brother of a former Taliban commander, according to a military charge sheet released recently.
The report also said that Sergeant Boland shackled an Afghan named Dilawar, chaining his hands above his shoulders, and denied medical care to the man, a 22-year-old taxi driver, whose family said he had never spent a night away from his mother and father before being taken to the American air base at Bagram, 40 miles north of Kabul. The two detainees died there within a week of each other in December 2002.
Now, 21 months later, the Army has charged Sergeant Boland with assault and other crimes and investigators are recommending that two dozen other American soldiers face criminal charges, including negligent homicide, or other punishments for abuses that occurred more than a year before the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Far from settling the cases, the charges raise new questions about who authorized the harsh interrogation methods used in Afghanistan and about the contradictory statements made by American military officials who, when questioned shortly after the men's deaths, said they had died of natural causes.
The military's findings now support accounts by former Afghan prisoners who said they were subjected to abuses that, while just as harrowing as any in Iraq, have drawn far less attention or official scrutiny lacking the kinds of photographs that so shocked the world from Abu Ghraib this spring.
Pentagon and other American officials have said the harsh interrogation methods described by the Afghans and outlined in the Army's charges were not authorized for use at Bagram.
A classified portion of an Army report into the Abu Ghraib scandal, recently obtained by The New York Times, shows that on Dec. 2, 2002, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved such methods for use only at the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
"Interrogation techniques intended only for Guantánamo came to be used in Afghanistan and Iraq,'' a separate report by an independent panel, appointed by Mr. Rumsfeld and headed by James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary, found in August. "In Afghanistan, techniques included removal of clothing, isolating people for long periods of time, use of stress positions, exploiting fear of dogs, and sleep and light deprivation.''
Mr. Habibullah and Mr. Dilawar died at Bagram after enduring at least some of those interrogation methods. A pending report by the naval inspector general, due to be released the next few weeks, is expected to examine how and why those methods were being used here. Military and government officials have yet to answer those questions.
In addition, recent revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency kept the names of dozens of detainees at Abu Ghraib and other facilities in Iraq off official rosters, to hide them from Red Cross inspectors, have raised fresh concerns over the possibility of similar practices here.
Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, the commander of American forces in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, said in an e-mail response to questions this week that in previous interviews he had always given the best information available to him. Sergeant Boland could not be reached for comment.
In a February 2003 interview, General McNeill acknowledged an investigation into Mr. Dilawar's death. But neither he nor other officials disclosed that military pathologists had described both deaths as homicides caused by beatings.
At the time, General McNeill and other military officials said in interviews that both Afghan prisoners had died of natural causes. "We haven't found anything that requires us to take extraordinary action," General McNeill said at the time. "We are going to let this investigation run its course."
He described Mr. Dilawar as having an advanced heart condition and said his coronary arteries were 85 percent blocked.
When General McNeill was asked at the time whether either prisoner had suffered injuries in custody, something described on both death certificates, he replied, "presently, I have no indication of that." In a later interview, he said the men had suffered injuries before their arrival at Bagram.
Asked if prisoners' hands were being chained to ceilings, he denied it. "We are not chaining people to the ceilings," he said. "I think you asked me that question before."
A military pathologist's finding on Mr. Dilawar's death certificate was revealed only when a journalist from The New York Times visited his family in their isolated village in the province of Khost and read the form, which was written in English, a language they could not understand.
The spokesman for the American-led force in Afghanistan, Col. Roger King, then confirmed the authenticity of the death certificate, but played down the pathologist's findings.
Afterward, the investigation moved slowly, and the troubled military intelligence unit that ran the Bagram detention center was transferred to Iraq. Members of that unit - the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. - have now been implicated in the deaths of the two Afghans as well as in the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
After the Abu Ghraib scandal, administration and military officials portrayed the use of the harsh interrogation methods approved by Mr. Rumsfeld as selective, limited only to prisoners considered to be of high-intelligence value.
Those 17 methods also included yelling at detainees, hooding them, shaving their heads and beards, the use of minimal physical contact like poking or grabbing, and 20-hour interrogations, according to the classified portions of the Army report provided by a senior military official who said full disclosure would help explain the causes behind the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Though it is not clear whether Mr. Rumsfeld was informed of the deaths of the two Afghan prisoners, a month later he rescinded his list of interrogation methods. In April, he approved a revised list, authorizing seven more aggressive interrogation techniques beyond the 17 listed in the Army's field manual.
Defense officials interviewed this year said that the more aggressive methods had been used only on two prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
But in interviews in early 2003 and in May 2004, five former Afghan prisoners, all of whom were later released after the military decided they posed no threat, described detentions and interrogations under extremely harsh conditions.
Before being released, three of the men were sent from Afghanistan to Guantánamo Bay. All said they were treated far worse in Afghanistan and that Guantánamo was more orderly and had more rules. In all, they spent 14 months in American detention.
Three of those interviewed said they were arrested with Mr. Dilawar after a broken walkie-talkie and an electric stabilizer were found in his taxi several hours after rockets were fired at an American base.
In interviews in May 2004, the three men said they were hooded and had their arms raised and chained to the ceiling for hours and days at a time at Bagram.
All the prisoners said they were first held in second-floor isolation cells, for periods ranging from 5 to 16 days. Later, they said, they and other prisoners were moved to the ground floor where they were held in large chain-link cages and barred from conversing.
One of the three men, Zakim Shah, a 20-year-old farmer, said he was kept awake by soldiers blaring music and shouting at him. He said he grew so exhausted at one point that he vomited.
Another, Parkhudin, a 26-year-old farmer and former soldier, said that his hands were chained to the ceiling for 8 of his 10 days in isolation and that he was hooded for hours at a time.
"They were putting a mask over our heads, they were beating us in Bagram," he said. "I think Dilawar died because he couldn't breathe. For me, it was very difficult to breathe."
Mr. Parkhudin said he was forced to lie on his stomach and that a soldier then jumped on his back. He said he believed that the Afghan in an adjoining isolation cell was Mr. Dilawar because the prisoner cried out for his mother and father.
The third man, Abdur Rahim, a 26-year-old baker, said that he was hooded and that his hands were chained to the ceiling for "seven or eight days" and turned black.
American interrogators forced him to crouch and hold his hands out in front of him for long periods, causing intense pain in his shoulders. When he tried to sit up, he said, "they were coming and hitting me and saying 'Don't move!' "
Two other men, interviewed in February 2003, Abdul Jabar, a 35-year-old taxi driver, and Hakkim Shah, a 32-year-old farmer, were held at the same time as Mr. Dilawar and described similar treatment.
Mr. Shah said he spent 16 days in upstairs rooms naked, hooded and shackled to the ceiling for 10 days until his legs became so swollen that the shackles cut off the blood flow and he could no longer stand. Doctors eventually removed the shackles and allowed him to sit.
Beyond Bagram, the Central Intelligence Agency maintains a large compound, based in the Ariana, a hotel in central Kabul, just 200 yards from the presidential palace.
Privately, the C.I.A. has been much criticized by Red Cross officials for providing no information about its detainees in Afghanistan. The street where its compound stands is blocked. The walls are covered with barbed wire. The Red Cross says it has been denied access to the detainees held there.
A detainee from the compound, a former Taliban commander named Mullah Rocketi, who gave himself up to American officials, said in an interview after his release last year that he had spent eight months there. He describe the compound as reasonably comfortable and said he was not mistreated. But he said he never saw the Red Cross. He said he was released after making a deal with American officials that he would not talk about.
Another former Afghan commander taken there was Jan Baz Khan, who worked for the C.I.A. and then came under suspicion of being behind rocket attacks on an American base, according to a United States military commander who did not want to be named. He said the prisoner was taken there in January.
There has been no word of his release. No one knows how many other people are held there still.