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Reservist charged in Afghan prison abuse case

The Army charged a military police reservist with assault and dereliction of duty in connection with the deaths of two prisoners in  Afghanistan. Military investigators have implicated about two dozen other soldiers, officials said Wednesday.
U.S. Army soldiers carry a prisoner injured during a battle in the Shahi Kot mountains to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in a March 12, 2002, file photo. Jim Hollander / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Army charged a military police reservist with assault and dereliction of duty in connection with the deaths of two Afghan prisoners in U.S. military control in Afghanistan, and investigators have implicated about two dozen other soldiers, Army officials said Wednesday.

Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the investigation is not complete and that it is uncertain how many soldiers eventually will face criminal charges. The deaths, on Dec. 3 and Dec. 10, 2002, were ruled homicides by U.S. military medical examiners.

In the first case, Mullah Habibullah, believed to be about 28, died of “pulmonary embolism due to blunt force injuries to the legs,” according to doctors. He was in detention at Bagram, Afghanistan.

One week later, an Afghan identified only as Dilawar, 22, died in U.S. custody at Bagram. Doctors blamed his death on “blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.”

Criminal charges were filed Aug. 23 by Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga., against Sgt. James P. Boland of the Army Reserve’s 377th Military Police Company, based in Cincinnati.

Others who are expected to face charges are from the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion from Fort Bragg, N.C. Some members of the 519th went from Afghanistan to Iraq in 2003 and are among those accused by Army investigators of abusing Iraqi prisoners in the fall of 2003.

The Boland charge sheet released Wednesday lists one count of dereliction of duty in connection with Habibullah’s death.

Guard accused of dereliction
The sheet says Boland, who was a guard at the Bagram prison, was derelict “in that he negligently, willfully or through culpable inefficiency” failed to take corrective action against another soldier who struck Habibullah while he was restrained. The name of the other soldier was blacked out for privacy reasons; his rank was specialist.

The other charges are in connection with Dilawar’s death. Boland is accused of dereliction of duty for failing to seek medical treatment for the prisoner, “who was visibly in need of medical care and later died,” according to the charge sheet issued by Army Forces Command.

Boland also is charged with maltreating Dilawar “by shackling him in a standing position with hands suspended above shoulder level for a prolonged period of time.” An alternate charge of assault is listed, citing the same description of a prolonged shackling of Dilawar.

Calls on Wednesday to Boland’s unit were not immediately returned.

It falls to Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of Army Forces Command, to designate a military officer to act on the charges recommended against those who have been implicated.

By coincidence, McNeill was commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the time of the alleged homicides, and he initiated an internal review of conditions at the Bagram detention facility.

First Army inquiry yielded no charges
An initial Army criminal investigation, the results of which were briefed to McNeill while he still was in charge in Afghanistan, did not recommend any criminal charges, according to a senior Army official who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity. For reasons that have not been made public, the investigation was reopened after McNeill left his post in Afghanistan.

Army officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday that about two dozen soldiers have been implicated in the investigation by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, but the exact number who will face charges is unclear.

The Washington Post reported that the Army is expected to levels charges against 26 soldiers, including negligent homicide.

Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command at Fort Belvoir, Va., would not say whether any soldiers have been implicated or what units are under investigation. He said the investigation was nearing completion.

In Afghanistan, a spokeswoman for the military said it “welcomes investigation into alleged criminal acts with the goal of determining justice.”

“Of course, the accused are innocent until proven guilty,” Lt. Col. Susan Meisner said in an e-mail. She did not address the detail of the Post’s report.