Charges urged in Afghan prisoner deaths

/ Source: The Associated Press

Up to 28 U.S. soldiers face possible criminal charges in connection with the deaths of two prisoners at an American-run prison in Afghanistan two years ago, the Army announced Thursday.

The most serious potential charges include involuntary manslaughter and maiming, the Army said in a statement.

Its announcement marked completion of a nearly 2-year-old investigation into the deaths. The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division recommends various charges against the 28, with some facing more serious charges than others.

So far, only one person, a military police reservist, has actually been charged in connection the deaths. Sgt. James P. Boland of the Army Reserve’s 377th Military Policy Company, based in Cincinnati, was charged Aug. 23 with assault and dereliction of duty.

For the other 27, their commanding officers will make the final call on whether they face a court-martial, administrative discipline or no disciplinary action.

Deaths were ruled homicides
The deaths, in early December 2002, were ruled homicides by U.S. military medical examiners.

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 detainees in the fall of 2003.

Jumana Musa, an advocacy director with Amnesty International, said in a statement that the investigation into the deaths took far too long, and that the 22-month interval “is not conducive to protecting prisoners from torture and abuse.”

“In fact, the failure to promptly account for the prisoners’ deaths indicates a chilling disregard for the value of human life and may have laid the groundwork for further abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere,” Musa said. She called for an independent investigation into all U.S. detention operations overseas.

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. Previous reports said he died Dec. 3; the Army’s announcement Thursday put his death as Dec. 4.

About a week later, on Dec. 10, 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.”

One soldier already charged
Boland’s charge sheet lists one count of dereliction of duty in connection with Habibullah’s death.

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.