4 Navy Commandos Are Charged in Abuse


New York Times

Sepetember 4, 2004

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 - Four Navy special forces personnel have been charged with abusing an Iraqi detainee who later died during questioning at Abu Ghraib prison last November, and then lying about it, Navy officials said Friday.

It is the first time Special Operations forces have faced criminal charges in connection with the prisoner-abuse scandal.

The charges against three Navy Seals and another sailor attached to a Seal unit, who were not identified but include at least one junior officer, include assault, maltreatment of detainees and giving false statements to investigators, according to a Navy statement and Navy officials. A spokesman for the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, Cmdr. Jeffrey Bender, said more Seals would probably be charged "in the near future" as part of a widening inquiry into abuses in Iraq between October 2003 and April 2004.

In a second case, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into possible abuse by Navy Seals against an Iraqi detainee in April, a Navy official said. That detainee also died later while in custody.

Military officials said it was highly unusual to charge Special Operations forces with offenses committed on the battlefield.

Investigators have reported that one of the men charged struck the detainee with a rifle butt after the prisoner resisted arrest.

The body of the detainee, pictured wrapped in plastic and packed in ice, became one of the most infamous images to emerge during the prisoner-abuse case.

The incident also drew attention because the detainee was being questioned by the Central Intelligence Agency at Abu Ghraib, but was kept off the prison roster.

Army officials also said this week that about two dozen soldiers were expected to face abuse-related charges in the deaths of two Afghan prisoners at a American-run detention center in Afghanistan in December 2002. In addition, an Army report released last week recommended disciplinary action against 41 members of the military police, military intelligence soldiers, civilian contractors and Army medics in connection with abuses at Abu Ghraib.

The Senate and House Armed Services Committees have scheduled hearings on Sept. 9 to hear testimony from the panels that issued their reports last week into the abuse. Separately, a group of retired admirals and generals, including Gen. Joseph Hoar, a retired commander of American forces in the Middle East, plan to call for a 9/11-style independent commission into detention and interrogation procedures.

The Navy charges announced Friday focus on the handling of a man, identified only as Jamadi, who was captured in Iraq by the Seals on Nov. 4, 2003, as a suspect in an attack against the International Committee for the Red Cross.

When he resisted arrest, a Seal "butt-stroked" him in the head with his rifle, according to the report by three Army generals released last week.

The Seals, part of a secretive Special Operations forces/C.I.A. task force that operated in Iraq, then took Jamadi to a C.I.A. camp, a Navy official said. From there, C.I.A. representatives brought him hooded to Abu Ghraib, but did not register him with prison authorities, the Army report found. The prisoner was placed in a shower stall, attended by two C.I.A. officials.

About 45 minutes later, a soldier was summoned to the shower where Jamadi, face down, hooded with a sandbag and handcuffed behind his back, was found dead. The body was packed in ice, then photographed and removed the next day on a litter to make it appear as if he were only ill, the Army report concluded.

While the Army report, conducted by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, underscored that many details were still under investigation, an autopsy concluded that the prisoner had "died of a blood clot in the head, likely as a result of injuries he sustained during apprehension."

But the murkiness of the incident, which is also being investigated by the C.I.A.'s inspector general, prevented prosecutors from charging the men with manslaughter or homicide, a senior Navy official said. "Legally, they didn't think they could prove anything that far," the official added.

The men initially denied any abuse. But the case gained momentum after another Seal, charged on an unrelated offense, agreed in late June to share information about the abuses he had heard about in hope of winning leniency, a Navy official said.

Some officers have pointed out that many of the abuses cited by human rights groups have occurred at "the point of capture," where the dangers and volatility are greatest for American forces.

"This is not police work we're dealing with, it's not arrest," Gen. John P. Abizaid, the commander of American forces in the Middle East, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in May. "It's combat."

While some American officers have complained that the abuse scandal has thrown an unwanted spotlight on military detention and interrogation operations, Navy officials said the charges announced Friday were appropriate.

"We do the right thing and hold the right people accountable," said one Seal officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.

Dates for hearings have not been set, the Navy said. Criminal charges would be referred to an Article 32 proceeding, the military equivalent of a grand jury inquiry. All four men have returned to bases in the United States.

Aside from the criminal inquiry under way by the Naval investigative service, there is a separate inquiry into allegations of detainee abuse by Special Operations forces throughout Iraq. The inquiry, headed by Brig. Gen. R. P. Formica, is expected to be completed and released in the next several weeks.

One of the reports issued last week, that of an independent commission headed by James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary, found that of 66 substantiated cases of abuse at American detention centers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, 28 involved Special Operations forces. Of those cases, investigations into 15 have been concluded, with 5 resulting in disciplinary action and 10 determined to be unfounded.

Marine Reservist Is Sentenced

A New York Marine reservist convicted of abuse of prisoners and dereliction of duty at an Iraqi prison camp was sentenced yesterday to 60 days at hard labor and confinement to a military base.

A nine-member jury of officers at Camp Pendleton, Calif., also ruled that the marine, Sgt. Gary Pittman of Flushing, should be stripped of rank and demoted to private but allowed to remain in the military.

Sergeant Pittman, 40, was a central figure in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners last year at Camp Whitehorse, in southern Iraq.The sergeant, who is a corrections officer in civilian life, was convicted of kicking and punching a number of prisoners and allowing his subordinates to do the same.

He was cleared of two other charges, including kicking a 52-year-old man who died in captivity.