msnbc.com news services
updated 5/5/2004 1:28:41 PM ET 2004-05-05T17:28:41

The number of prisoner deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan known to be under U.S. investigation or already blamed on Americans stood at 14 on Wednesday.

The Army disclosed that it is conducting criminal investigations of 10 prisoner deaths in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus another 10 abuse cases.

In addition, the deaths of two Iraqi prisoners already have been ruled homicides, the Army said Tuesday. In one case, a soldier was court-martialed, reduced in rank and discharged from the Army. In the other case, a CIA contract interrogator’s conduct has been referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, the Army said.

Intelligence officials also have told NBC News that two other prisoner deaths are under investigation by the CIA’s Inspector General. An intelligence official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that one of the deaths took place at an Afghan prison near the Pakistan border in June 2003 and involved an independent contractor working for the CIA. The other death occurred at another, unspecified location in Iraq and involved a CIA interrogator, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A dozen deaths under investigation
That means that in total, U.S. officials have acknowledged two prisoner deaths they consider to be homicides, and are investigating another 12 deaths.

Reuters on Tuesday reported that a total of 25 prisoner deaths have occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, quoting an unidentified U.S. Army official as saying that 12 prisoners were found to have died either of natural or undetermined causes and one was ruled a justifiable homicide because it occurred while a prisoner was trying to escape. The vast majority of the deaths occurred in Iraq, not Afghanistan, according to the official, who did not provide an exact breakdown.

The official said that in the two murder cases, a soldier was found guilty in the U.S. military justice system of shooting a prisoner to death in September at a detention center in Iraq and that another prisoner was killed at the Abu Ghraib jail near Baghdad in November by a private contractor who worked as an interrogator for the CIA.

The soldier was reduced in rank to private and thrown out of the service but did not serve any jail time, the official said. The official said that the soldier shot the prisoner after the prisoner had thrown rocks at the soldier and that the soldier was found to have used excessive force.

The official said that because the CIA contractor was not in the U.S. military, no legal action was taken because of lack of jurisdiction, but Army officials referred the case to the Justice Department for possible action. The official did not offer details of that killing.

10 abuse cases also probed
In addition, the official said 10 more abuse cases were being investigated, nine of them involving allegations of assault and the other involving allegations of sexual assault.

Senior military and Bush administration officials are bracing for broader investigations. “I expect that as these investigations track down all the possible leads that there will be more things that will need to be looked at very, very carefully,” Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday in an appearance on CBS’ “The Early Show.”

“As they chase the various elements, more people come forward with bits and pieces they think they might have and that leads you to look at other things,” Pace said. “So there will be more investigations. Where that will lead I don’t know.”

Other administration officials tried to assure the American public and the world that the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad was an aberration, and that guilty parties would be dealt with swiftly and firmly. They listed a host of investigations under way, as members of Congress called for their own probe.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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