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Brutal interrogation in Iraq Five detainees' deaths probed
by Miles Moffeit Denver Post Staff Writer
Denver Post
May 19, 2004


Pentagon records provide the clearest view yet of the U.S. tactics used at Anu Ghraib and elsewhere to coax secrets from Iraqis.

Brutal interrogation techniques by U.S. military personnel are being investigated in connection with the deaths of at least five Iraqi prisoners in war-zone detention camps, Pentagon documents obtained by The Denver Post show.

The deaths include the killing in November of a high-level Iraqi general who was shoved into a sleeping bag and suffocated, according to the Pentagon report. The documents contradict an earlier Defense Department statement that said the general died "of natural causes" during an interrogation. Pentagon officials declined to comment on the new disclosure.

Another Iraqi military officer, records show, was asphyxiated after being gagged, his hands tied to the top of his cell door. Another detainee died "while undergoing stress technique interrogation," involving smothering and "chest compressions," according to the documents.

Details of the death investigations, involving at least four different detention facilities including the Abu Ghraib prison, provide the clearest view yet into war-zone interrogation rooms, where intelligence soldiers and other personnel have sometimes used lethal tactics to try to coax secrets from prisoners, including choking off detainees' airways. Other abusive strategies involve sitting on prisoners or bending them into uncomfortable positions, records show.

"Torture is the only thing you can call this," said a Pentagon source with knowledge of internal investigations into prisoner abuses. "There is a lot about our country's interrogation techniques that is very troubling. These are violations of military law."

Internal records obtained by The Post point to wider problems beyond the Abu Ghraib prison and demonstrate that some coercive tactics used at Abu Ghraib have shown up in interrogations elsewhere in the war effort. The documents also show more than twice as many allegations of detainee abuse - 75 - are being investigated by the military than previously known. Twenty-seven of the abuse cases involve deaths; at least eight are believed to be homicides.

No criminal punishments have been announced in the interrogation deaths, even though three deaths occurred last year.

Beyond the interrogation deaths, the military documents show that investigators are examining other abuse cases involving soldiers using choking techniques during interrogations, including the handling of prisoners at a detention facility in Samarra, Iraq, where soldiers allegedly "forced into asphyxiation numerous detainees."

Also under investigation are reports that soldiers in Iraq abused women and children. One April 2003 case, which is awaiting trial, involves a reservist who pointed a loaded pistol at an Iraqi child in front of witnesses, saying he should kill the youngster to "send a message" to other Iraqis.

Pentagon officials, asked to comment on synopses of the cases provided by The Post, released a statement saying they do not discuss ongoing investigations. "Make no mistake; we will take whatever corrective actions are determined to be appropriate," the statement said. "The offenders will be dealt with, and action will be taken to prevent such situations from happening again."

Military officials and the Bush administration face international scrutiny over the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which entailed a range of physical assault, mental abuse and sexual humiliation by military police officers. The role of military intelligence personnel in abuse cases has been murky. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that an American officer who led interrogations at the prison acknowledged that intelligence personnel sometimes instructed military police to mete out abuse.

In the case of Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who headed Saddam Hussein's air force, intelligence officers' role was documented in abuse that soon turned fatal, documents show,

Mowhoush, considered a "high-priority target," turned himself in for questioning in November, according to documents. After two weeks in custody at an Al Qaim detention facility, northwest of Baghdad, two soldiers with the 66th Military Intelligence Company, slid a sleeping bag over his body, except for his feet, and began questioning him as they rolled him repeatedly from his back to his stomach, the documents show.

Then, one of the soldiers, an interrogator, sat on Mowhoush's chest and placed his hands over the prisoner's mouth, according to the report: "During this interrogation, the (general) became non-responsive, medics were called and he was later pronounced dead." According to the documents, "The preliminary report lists the cause of death as asphyxia due to smothering and chest compressions."

Immediately after Mowhoush's death was reported, U.S. military officials released a statement acknowledging he died during an interview.

"Mowhoush said he didn't feel well and subsequently lost consciousness," read the press statement, which is still posted on a Pentagon website. "The soldier questioning him found no pulse, then conducted CPR and called for medical authorities. According to the on-site surgeon, it appeared Mowhouse died of natural causes."

An investigative report was finalized in late January, and the interrogating soldiers received reprimands, in addition to being barred from further interviews, documents show. According to the report obtained by The Post, commanders have not taken criminal action against the soldiers, citing an ongoing investigation.

Criminal punishments apparently have not been pursued in the other interrogation-death cases, which also are ongoing.

Another Iraqi prisoner was assaulted by interrogators on two occasions in early January of this year at the FOB Rifles Base in Asad, Iraq, documents state. U.S. forces arrested him for allegedly possessing explosive devices, and he was later placed in an isolation cell for questioning by special-forces soldiers with the Operational Detachment Alpha, where he was shackled to a pipe that ran along the ceiling. After he was allowed to sit, he lunged at one of the soldiers, grabbing his shirt. "The three ODA members punched and kicked (the prisoner) in the stomach and ribs for approximately one to two minutes," documents show.

Three days later, the prisoner escaped from his cell and was recaptured.

During questioning, the detainee refused to follow instructions. When he refused orders to remain quiet in his cell, his hands were tied to the top of his cell door, the report shows. When he still refused, he was gagged, the report notes, and five minutes later, a soldier "noticed that he was slumped down and hanging from his shackles" dead.

According to the investigative report, special forces commanders are reviewing "consideration of misconduct" in the case.

Other prisoner deaths under homicide investigation, records show:

The beating in early April of a detainee at the LSA Diamondback facility in Mosul, Iraq, who was found dead in his sleep. A death report showed "blunt- force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia." He had gone to sleep immediately after questioning by members of the Naval Special Warfare Team. No disciplinary action was noted in the report, but the investigation continues, the report states.

In June, at a "classified interrogation facility" in Baghdad, an Iraqi detainee was found dead after being restrained in a chair for questioning. "While in custody the detainee was subjected to both physical and psychological stress," the report shows. An autopsy determined that he died of a "hard, fast blow" to the head. The investigation continues. No disciplinary action was noted.

On Nov. 4, an Iraqi died at Abu Ghraib during an interview by special forces and Navy SEAL soldiers. "An autopsy revealed the cause of death was blunt force trauma as complicated by compromised respiration." The report notes that Navy investigators concluded Navy personnel did not commit a crime leading to the detainee's death. But the investigation, including by CIA officials, is still ongoing. No disciplinary action was noted.

Amid a storm of controversy over prisoner handling in recent weeks, U.S. military officials have launched eight separate internal investigations into abuse cases, administrative procedures and interrogation techniques.

They also have acknowledged that reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib violate the Geneva Conventions and other treaties.

According to Human Rights Watch, which monitors prisoner maltreatment around the world, the patterns of interrogation tactics known as "stress techniques" in the death cases is tantamount to torture and should be investigated by an "independent" body or government.

"It sounds as though the Iraqi general and others were being subjected to extreme techniques we are only just now learning about, and it's clearly cruel and degrading treatment," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "This highlights the need for independent scrutiny at a minimum by Congress or possibly an independent commission of inquiry."

Of the detainee cases that were not homicides, commanders typically handed down lenient job-related punishments to the accused, instead of seeking criminal convictions. Of 47 punishments given to those accused of prisoner abuse, according to the report, only 15 involved court-martial. Criminal penalties ranged from reprimands to 60 days' confinement.

Unlike civilian practices, in the military, commanders decide whether to send accused soldiers to trial.

Alleged abuses

Military investigations regarding allegations of Iraqi detainee abuse:

April 12, 2004: Member of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force abused a detainee involved in shooting death of a Marine lieutenant and sergeant. During interrogation, detainee was kicked in the rib cage, punched in kidney area and slapped in the head. Incident being investigated.

Jan. 9, 2004: FOB Rifles Base detainee died while in custody. The detainee, an escapee who had been recaptured, was shackled to the door of his cell with his hands over his head and gagged. Five minutes later, he was found dead. The death is under investigation.

Dec. 31, 2003: Military police officer used butt of M-4 rifle to strike a detainee in the face and on the back of the neck. Then the officer placed the muzzle of his M-4 rifle in the detainee's mouth and pulled trigger on the empty weapon. Officer then chambered a round and pointed the rifle at detainee, firing a round 5 or 6 feet from detainee. The incident is under investigation.

Nov. 26, 2003: At the 3rd ACR detention facility, Iraqi Gen. Abed Hamad Mowhoush, a "high-priority target," was placed inside a sleeping bag with only his feet exposed. He was rolled back and forth while being questioned. One of the interrogators sat on his chest and placed hands over his mouth. He died during the interrogation, and an autopsy confirmed evidence of blunt force trauma to the chest and legs. The interrogating officers were given general officer reprimands, prohibited from conducting further interrogations and referred for consideration of misconduct charges.

Sept. 11, 2003: A guard at the FOB Packhorse detention facility fatally shot a detainee who was throwing rocks. The soldier, who did not follow regulations, was reduced in rank and discharged from the military in lieu of trial by court-martial.

June 13, 2003: A sergeant beat a detainee while his squad leader was present. Sergeant received rank reduction and 60 days' confinement. His commanding officer - who also beat detainees - was charged with dereliction of duty, given a reprimand and fined $2,000.

Staff researcher Monnie Nilsson contributed to this report.

Staff writer Miles Moffeit can be reached at 303-820-1415 or mmoffeit@denverpost.com.


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