WASHINGTON — Internal Army documents describe alleged mistreatment of Iraqi citizens by U.S. soldiers, including reports of prisoners who died under suspicious circumstances and soldiers stealing cash and other valuables from Iraqis during searches of their homes.
The hundreds of pages of Army records, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, described one investigation into whether an Army staff sergeant deliberately gave a captured Iraqi an old handgun to justify shooting him.
A U.S. soldier said the sergeant, whose name was marked out in the documents, warned his troops, “If he grabs this gun, shoot him!”
The Iraqi, a museum guard initially suspected of firing an AK-47 at troops, refused to take the gun, investigators said. “I thought he was going to shoot him,” another U.S. soldier told Army investigators later.
The sergeant denied it. “I can understand they may have misinterpreted what I said to the detainee,” he told investigators, “but if they said I was trying to give the detainee the weapon or said to shoot him, then they are lying.”
Another soldier described the sergeant who was investigated as a good soldier. “If someone was shooting at one of my soldiers, I would be upset also,” this soldier said. He added that, “This is getting carried away. We don’t know what our role is in Iraq.”
The ACLU, which requested the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, said the government reports illustrated troubling patterns of alleged abuses that weren’t taken seriously. “These kinds of crimes should not simply be brushed under the rug,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.
ACLU: E-mails point to Guantanamo abuses
The latest disclosures about alleged mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners followed reports earlier this week that military interrogators at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some posing as FBI agents, humiliated and abused prisoners, including inserting lit cigarettes in their ears.
Releasing e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday one prisoner was wrapped in an Israeli flag and some were shackled hand and foot in fetal positions for 18 to 24 hours, forcing them to soil themselves.
The ACLU said e-mails suggested “inhumane interrogation methods” approved by President Bush — a charge the White House vigorously denied.
The military operation at Guantanamo Bay has come under increased scrutiny as former prisoners have alleged they were tortured. The Pentagon maintains it runs a humane operation there and investigates all allegations of abuse.
The e-mails released by the ACLU include a report by an FBI agent who witnessed “numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees” including choking, beatings and placing lighted cigarettes inside ears. One prisoner, according to an e-mail report, had been left in a room at near 100 degrees and had pulled out his hair during the night.
Loud music and lights
One prisoner was interrogated while wrapped in an Israeli flag and bombarded with loud music and strobe lights, according to an FBI agent’s account contained in an e-mail posted on the ACLU Web site.
According to the e-mails, FBI officials disapproved of the practice of military interrogators posing as federal agents.
Posing as FBI agents is not on a list of interrogation methods approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The Pentagon is investigating the allegations.
The White House denied a suggestion in an FBI e-mail dated May 22, 2004, that Bush personally signed off on certain interrogation techniques in an executive order.
The ACLU’s disclosures primarily constitute e-mails between FBI officials whose names the government removed before releasing them. In several, the writers describe and criticize various interrogation techniques they say they witnessed at Guantanamo.
A Guantanamo prisoner has, in a court petition, described prisoners wrapped in Israeli flags, among other allegations. At the time, a Guantanamo Bay spokesman denied his statements.
While military interrogators are performing much of the questioning at Guantanamo, the FBI and CIA also have operations there.
Torture ‘in some instances’
Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said the FBI documents continue to show the U.S. government was “torturing individuals in some instances” and demonstrates a major rift between FBI agents and the military over proper interrogation techniques.
“There was real concern within our law enforcement community about whether we are torturing individuals,” Romero said.
In other developments, a military review found a second Guantanamo prisoner wrongly classified as an enemy combatant, and he will be released soon to his home country, Navy Secretary Gordon England said Monday.
The newest prisoner to face release would be the second freed under a military process instituted after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that prisoners at Guantanamo could challenge their imprisonment through the U.S. court system.
To bolster its case for each of the prisoners against any such challenge, the Pentagon set up tribunals to review circumstances of each man’s capture to determine whether they are properly held.
Of the roughly 200 prisoners already released, at least a dozen have returned to the battlefield. More than 300 additional cases are still being reviewed.
Government rebuffed on CIA file review delay
Separately Monday, a federal judge in New York said he would deny a government request to delay a review of whether certain CIA internal files related to Iraq should be made public.
Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s comments marked a victory for the ACLU and other groups seeking information about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo and in Iraq.
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