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Army: Soldiers shouldn’t be charged

An Army investigation into the death of an Afghan man in 2002 found probable cause to charge several soldiers with murder, but only one was reprimanded and the rest were cleared, documents show.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Army investigation into the shooting death of an Afghan in August 2002 found probable cause to charge several Special Forces soldiers with murdering him, but only one was reprimanded and the rest were cleared, documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union show.

The dead man, Mohammed Sayari, was shot repeatedly Aug. 28, 2002, shortly after his pickup was stopped by four members of a Special Forces detachment operating out of a base at Lwara, Afghanistan, about 100 miles southeast of Kabul.

The investigation of the shooting was completed in May 2003, but little, if anything, was made public until the ACLU obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Numerous alleged incidents detailed
The investigative report was one among many reports released Monday of alleged prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Several other documents, in particular, focus on allegations of abuse or prisoners at al-Azimiyah Palace in Baghdad. In many cases, investigators did not find enough evidence to support claims made by other soldiers, contractors or prisoners.

But in Sayari’s death, Army investigators believed the four Special Forces soldiers conspired to lure him into an ambush and kill him.

Commanding officers disagreed; the leader of the four, a captain, received a written reprimand, and the rest were cleared. A chief warrant officer also was suspected of being an accessory because he reportedly lost Sayari’s alleged rifle, but he also was cleared.

According to a statement provided Monday by the Defense Department, commanders found that the shooting was justified. The statement said the captain was reprimanded only for failing to provide photographs of the scene to investigators.

According to interviews with U.S. soldiers and Afghans connected to the incident, Sayari was either a pro-U.S. Afghan who hated al-Qaida and wanted to use his truck as a taxi for soldiers, or he was a thug who might have been spying on the Americans at the base. He was a father of five, his family said.

The Special Forces soldiers, who were not identified by name, believed Sayari had been tracking them when they drove out of the base, according to the investigation report. They decided they would rush out of the base in their Humvees as a ruse so he would follow him.

Sayari did, accompanied by several other Afghans in his truck. A short way down the road, the soldiers set up a quick roadblock and stopped him. After ordering the other Afghans to leave, including a member of the Afghan military forces, Sayari was killed.

According to the four Special Forces soldiers, Sayari tried to grab a Kalashnikov rifle resting nearby, and two soldiers shot him in the stomach, the chest and the head.

Two of the four soldiers consented to be interviewed without a lawyer present. Both denied planning to kill Sayari.

Soldiers who arrived at the scene later said Sayari’s wounds looked as if he had been shot in his back and the back of his head. Sayari was clutching prayer beads in his right hand, which, according to an interpreter at the U.S. base nearby, was a peaceful gesture, not one made by someone intending violence.

Retribution feared
One troubled sergeant, with an intelligence unit at Lwara, who was summoned to the scene, feared retribution from the Special Forces for reporting the incident to criminal investigators.

The sergeant said the soldiers’ accounts did not add up. In addition, the Special Forces captain ordered the sergeant to delete some of the images he took of the scene with his camera.

Asked by an investigator why the Special Forces soldiers would have killed Sayari, the sergeant said: “How do you say just for the fun of it? I think that members of the team felt that Afghan life was less than human.”

Investigators sought to have his body exhumed for an autopsy, but his Afghan tribe refused.

In Sayari’s truck was a red plastic card that said “do bad things” in Pashto, one of the languages of Afghanistan, a soldier said.

After his death, a soldier said, attacks around the Lwara base dropped significantly.