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Abuse claims multiplying

The Army launched dozens of investigations into detainee abuses across Iraq in the past two years - probing claims of beatings and torture that rivaled the Abu Ghraib prison scandal - but case after case was closed with U.S. troops facing no charges or only minimal punishment, military records released yesterday show.

The documents, internal reports from more than 50 criminal investigations, further refute government claims last year that photographs from Abu Ghraib showed isolated pranks of a few low-ranking soldiers.

The new records describe alleged misdeeds at U.S. facilities across Iraq that are, in some instances, strikingly similar to the publicized abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

The records include new allegations of forced sodomy, the use of dogs to frighten detainees and severe beatings of hooded and handcuffed prisoners. In one case, investigators determined that a commander and three members of an Army Special Forces unit - none of whom was publicly identified - had committed murder by luring an Afghan civilian to a roadblock before detaining him and shooting him.

No court-martial was convened in the case, according to the records released yesterday. Only one soldier was punished, receiving a written reprimand.

In another case, a soldier told investigators: "I saw what I think were war crimes on the people of Iraq." But in closing the case, agents with the Army Criminal Investigation Command said there was "insufficient evidence to prove or disprove" the claims from the Camp Red detention facility in Baghdad - a finding repeated often in the investigative files.

An Army spokesman said last night that the files released yesterday, many of them heavily redacted, do not give the full picture of how seriously the military has responded to allegations of detainee abuse.

"The Army has aggressively investigated all credible allegations of detainee abuse and held soldiers accountable for their actions," Army spokesman Dov Schwartz said. "There have already been several major inquiries examining all aspects of detainee operations; additional inquiries are under way. ... The Army's record of investigating detainee abuse continues to be thorough and fair."

He said there have been more than 300 criminal investigations and more than 100 personnel have faced penalties through courts-martial, nonjudicial punishment or administrative action.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said the investigative records released by the government so far - obtained through the organization's continuing lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act - show a pattern of "woefully inadequate" investigations.

Amrit Singh, an ACLU staff attorney who has worked closely on the lawsuit, said that in some cases, "investigations were abandoned before relevant witnesses were questioned."

In other cases, she said, investigations were dropped because the abuses were considered "standard operating procedure."

The soldier at Camp Red, for instance, told investigators that "a lot of pictures were taken," some showing the "mistreatment or crimes against the people that were caught."

"Sometimes there would be prisoner's [sic] with sand bags on their heads, standing on a brick with their hands behind their head, and concertina wire all around them," the soldier said about detainee treatment at the facility in November 2003, roughly the same time the worst abuses took place at Abu Ghraib. "If they got off the brick they were manhandled."

For the past year, criminal charges in the detainee abuse scandal have been tightly focused on seven low-ranking members of the 372nd Military Police Company, an Army Reserve unit from Western Maryland whose soldiers served as guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in fall 2003.

Three soldiers from the unit have pleaded guilty. Spc. Charles A. Graner Jr. was convicted and sentenced to 10 years at a military trial this month after prosecutors presented a case that focused mainly on the events of a single night at the Baghdad prison.

But government records and a series of Pentagon reports have portrayed the abuses as more widespread, reaching to detainee camps in Afghanistan and to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a statement yesterday, military officials acknowledged for the first time that 23 terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay in 2003 tried to hang or strangle themselves in a mass protest.

The investigative files released by the ACLU had other new details about U.S. detention operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents show that investigators received numerous reports of detainee mistreatment at the Al-Azimiyah Palace in Baghdad, including one from a U.S. civilian contractor who said at least 90 incidents of abuse occurred there.

The files included probes into at least seven deaths.

Other abuse allegations included:

  • A 73-year-old Iraqi woman told Army investigators she was subjected to sexual abuses and that a dog was let loose in a room where she and three other women were being held. Records indicate the investigation was closed.

  • An October 2003 investigation found the soldiers who routinely stole money from detainees at a downtown Baghdad facility - what they called a "Robin Hood Tax" that went to buy sodas, ice and liquor - also were accused of beating hooded and handcuffed prisoners. One soldier reported seeing two others hold a detainee while a third "boot stomped" him in the gut, and also seeing a second detainee held against the wall while a soldier hit him in the stomach with a "chunk of wood."

    When he reported the treatment, the soldier said he was told by a staff sergeant: "After you been at the hard site awhile you'll be doing it too." Two soldiers were found guilty at courts-martial, according to the investigation file. One received a reprimand and fine; the other was reduced in rank and confined for 60 days.

  • After a soldier's wife last summer turned over to investigators a photo showing him pointing a gun at the head of a bound and hooded detainee, the soldier claimed he was acting at the direction of CIA and special forces operatives.

    "I'm a private in the Army and I don't ask too many questions as to what's going on or what's being done," the soldier told investigators. He said he worked with special forces personnel at a safe house, where guard duty included playing loud music to keep prisoners from sleeping, dousing them with water, and poking, prodding or slapping prisoners.

    Army investigators concluded the soldier had committed aggravated assault when he pointed his pistol at the detainee, but the investigative records do not indicate whether charges were filed.

  • A detainee held by members of a Navy SEAL team at a facility in Mosul, Iraq, said he was stripped, subjected to loud music, doused with cold water and threatened that if he did not confess, "they would bring my wife and my mother and that they would rape them."

    When interviewed by investigators, the SEAL team members denied abusing the detainee, "stating that he threw himself on rocks and rubbed himself against walls, and faked illness." The report concluded that the "investigation did not develop sufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegations."

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