WASHINGTON - Four special operations soldiers in Iraq were punished and reassigned to other duties after an investigation revealed that they had abused an Iraqi prisoner in June and threatened two other government employees who witnessed the incident and complained about it, a Defense Department spokesman said yesterday.
The four soldiers were part of an elite secret unit known as Task Force 6-26, which was assigned to hunt down and capture high-value targets of Saddam Hussein's former regime and leaders of the Iraqi insurgency.
The men received "administrative punishments for excessive use of force" for using Taser stun guns, said spokesman Larry Di Rita. All four soldiers were assigned to other duties, and two were removed from the unit, Di Rita said.
The incident was at the center of a June 25 memo that Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby sent to Stephen A. Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.
Jacoby wrote that two DIA interrogators assigned to the task force saw prisoners being brought into a temporary detention facility in Baghdad with burn marks on their backs and that some of the prisoners were complaining of kidney pain.
One interrogator was ordered out of the room after he saw a task force soldier punch a prisoner in the face, and the task force leader confiscated photos of the abuse.
The memo said that after the interrogators complained about the incident, they were "threatened" by members of the task force, had their car keys confiscated, were ordered not to leave the detention facility and were warned against telling anyone about what they'd witnessed.
The Pentagon yesterday also released copies of a handwritten memo that officials said Cambone sent his deputy, Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, advising Boykin to "get to the bottom of this immediately." The memo is dated June 26, the day after Jacoby lodged his agency's account of the incident.
"This is not acceptable," Cambone wrote. "I want a fuller report of action taken, etc. by Wednesday. In particular, I want to know if this is part of a pattern of behavior by TF 6-26."
It's unclear what report, if any, Boykin later delivered to Cambone. Pentagon spokesmen said no copies of such a report were yet available.
The memo by the DIA director was among the government documents released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained them as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Pentagon said yesterday that the special operations task force commander in Iraq had initiated an investigation and it was widened after the DIA interrogators lodged their allegations.