The U.S. military is investigating a detainee’s death this week at Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S. command said Thursday.
The prisoner appeared to have died of natural causes, but officials were awaiting the results of an autopsy, the military said in a statement.
Word of the death came as military officials in Washington named a four-star general to take over an investigation into the role of Army intelligence personnel in the mistreatment of Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison.
The military’s account of the inmate’s death said that other detainees told prison guards early Monday that the 42-year-old inmate “appeared to be suffering a medical problem.” Medics rushed him to a prison hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The man, who was not identified, had been held since May because he was believed to be “an imperative threat for attacks against coalition forces,” the military said. It said he had not been interrogated since his arrival.
Autopsy to determine cause of death
“An investigation was initiated to determine the precise cause of death, which is standing procedure for all detainees who die while in custody of coalition forces,” the statement said.
After the autopsy, the man’s remains will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and then to Iraq’s interim government.
An international outcry about abuse at Abu Ghraib was set off when CBS aired photos from the prison on April 28. Months before that, the Red Cross had complained to the U.S. military about treatment of prisoners in Iraq and an internal military investigation also found problems.
U.S. soldiers have been photographed smiling and flashing a thumbs up as they posed next to an inmate in a body bag at Abu Ghraib. The two soldiers pictured are facing charges in the scandal.
One soldier, Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, was sentenced to a maximum penalty of one year in prison in the first court-martial linked to the case.
Three others charged with abusing inmates will appear at a military court in Baghdad on Monday for pretrial hearings.
On Monday, about 400 prisoners were released from the grim detention center on the outskirts of Baghdad. The release was the fifth large batch so far.
Leadership change in probe of Army intelligence personnel
Meantime, the Pentagon announced that Gen. Paul Kern, the four-star general currently in charge of the Army’s supply systems, will take over an investigation into the role of Army intelligence personnel in the mistreatment of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib.
Kern, who has held four-star rank longer than any current Army officer other than the Army chief of staff, Gen. Peter Schoomaker, assumes control of that aspect of the investigation from Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.
Kern will assess the status of the ongoing investigation before deciding whether to replace Maj. Gen. George Fay as the investigating officer, officials said.
Sanchez asked to be removed from the investigation’s chain of command because questions have been raised about his role in the prisoner abuse matter, and in order for him to be questioned the probe would have to be headed by either a more senior lieutenant general or a four-star general.
Move approved by Rumsfeld
The decision to put Kern in charge was approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and announced by Les Brownlee, the acting secretary of the Army. The investigation is specifically looking at the alleged misconduct of personnel assigned to or attached to the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which Sanchez placed in charge of Abu Ghraib in November 2003.
A separate investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba has concluded that Col. Thomas Pappas, commander of the 205th, and Lt. Col. Steve Jordan, former director of the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at the prison, were “either directly or indirectly responsible for the abuses,” along with two civilian contractors.
Kern is commander of Army Materiel Command, which is responsible for providing equipment, weapons and supplies to Army troops in Iraq and around the world. A West Point graduate in the class of 1967, Kern was a 24th Infantry Division brigade commander during the 1991 Gulf War and he served two combat tours in Vietnam. He also commanded the 4th Infantry Division and served as senior military assistant to former Defense Secretary William Perry.