Neil Mackay / Sunday Herald & Palm Beach Post – 2005-10-03 07:54:09
Torture of Iraqis Was for ‘Stress Relief’, Say US Soldiers
Neil Mackay, Investigations Editor / Sunday Herald
(October 2, 2005) — For the first time, American soldiers who personally tortured Iraqi prisoners have come forward to give testimony to human rights organisations about crimes they comm itted.
Three soldiers – a captain and two sergeants – from the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Mercury near Fallujah in Iraq have told Human Rights Watch how prisoners were tortured both as a form of stress relief and as a way of breaking them for interrogation sessions.
These latest revelations about the torture of Iraqi detainees come at a time when the Bush administration thought it could draw a line under the scandal of Abu Ghraib following last week’s imprisonment of Private Lynndie England for her now infamous role in the abuse of prisoners and the photographing of torture.
The 82nd Airborne soldiers at FOB Mercury earned the nickname “The Murderous Maniacs” from local Iraqis and took the moniker as a badge of honour.
The soldiers referred to their Iraqi captives as PUCs — persons under control — and used the expressions “f—ing a PUC” and “smoking a PUC” to refer respectively to torture and forced physical exertion.
One sergeant provided graphic descriptions to Human Rights Watch investigators about acts of abuse carried out both by himself and others. He now says he regrets his actions. His regiment arrived at FOB Mercury in August 2003. He said: “ The first interrogation that I observed was the first time I saw a PUC pushed to the brink of a stroke or a heart attack. At first I was surprised, like, ‘This is what we are allowed to do?’”
The troops would put sand-bags on prisoners’ heads and cuff them with plastic zip-ties. The sergeant, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said if he was told that prisoners had been found with homemade bombs, “we would f*** them up, put them in stress positions and put them in a tent and withhold water … It was like a game. You know, how far could you make this guy go before he passes out or just collapses on you?”
He explained: “To ‘f*** a PUC’ means to beat him up. We would give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, pull them down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To ‘smoke’ someone is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and pass out. That happened every day.
“Some days we would just get bored so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them get in a pyramid. We did that for amusement.”
Iraqis were “smoked” for up to 12 hours. That would entail being made to hold five-gallon water cans in both hands with out-stretched arms, made to do press-ups and star jumps. At no time, during these sessions, would they get water or food apart from dry biscuits. Sleep deprivation was also “a really big thing”, the sergeant added.
To prepare a prisoner for interrogation, military intelligence officers ordered that the Iraqis be deprived of sleep. The sergeant said he and other soldiers did this by “banging on their cages, crashing them into the cages, kicking them, kicking dirt, yelling”.
They’d also pour cold water over prisoners and then cover them in sand and mud. On some occasions, prisoners were tortured for revenge. “If we were on patrol and caught a guy that killed our captain or my buddy last week … man, it is human nature,” said the sergeant – but on other occasions, he confessed, it was for “sport”.
Many prisoners were completely innocent and had no part in the insurgency, he said – but intelligence officers had told soldiers to exhaust the prisoners to make them co-operate. He said he now knew their behaviour was “wrong”, but added “this was the norm”. “Trends were accepted. Leadership failed to provide clear guidance so we just developed it. They wanted intel [intelligence]. As long as no PUC came up dead, it happened.”
According to Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division, army doctrine had been broken by allowing Iraqis who were captured by them to remain in their custody, instead of being sent “behind the lines” to trained military police.
Pictures of abuse at FOB Mercury were destroyed by soldiers after the scandal of Abu Ghraib broke.
However, Fishback told his company commander about the abuse and was told “remember the honour of the unit is at stake” and “don’t expect me to go to bat for you on this issue if you take this up”. Fishback then told his battalion commander who advised him to speak to the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office, which deals with issues of military law.
The JAG told Fishback that the Geneva Conventions “are a grey area”. When Fishback described some of the abuses he had witnessed the JAG said it was “within” Geneva Conventions.
Fishback added: “If I go to JAG and JAG cannot give me clear guidance about what I should stop and what I should allow to happen, how is an NCO or a private expected to act appropriately?”
Fishback, a West Point graduate who has served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, spent 17 months trying to raise the matter with his superiors. When he attempted to approach representatives of US Senators John McCain and John Warner about the abuse, he was told that he would not be granted a pass to meet them on his day off.
Fishback says that army investigators were currently more interested in finding out the identity of the other soldiers who spoke to Human Rights Watch than dealing with the systemic abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Colonel Joseph Curtin, a senior army spokesman at the Pentagon, said: “We do take the captain seriously and are following up on this.”
Fishback has now been removed from special forces training because of the army investigation.
US Soldiers Get Off Easy for Crimes Against Iraqis
Russell Carollo, Larry Kaplow /Palm Beach Post-/ Cox News Service
BAGHDAD (October 02, 2005) — Eight-year-old Rudenah al-Hillali cried as the two American soldiers led her father into their apartment with a rifle barrel at his back and forced the family to stand in a corner at gunpoint.
“She was scared,” said her father, Issam Abdul Jabbar al-Hillali, adding that the soldiers refused to let him give Rudenah water.
Al-Hillali said Army Pfc. John N. Lee and Spec. Timothy I. Barron claimed to be Marines searching for weapons. But once inside his house, he said, they used a knife to pry open a briefcase filled with money and eventually stole $2,000 in cash, silver and other valuables.
Although Army officials found some of the missing items in the soldiers’ possession and they admitted to robbing houses under the guise of looking for illegal weapons, the Army dismissed the charges. In exchange, Barron said, both soldiers agreed to leave the military.
Using previously undisclosed Army records, the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News found that dozens of soldiers have been accused of crimes against Iraqis since the first troops deployed for Iraq. But despite strong evidence and convictions in some cases, only a small percentage resulted in punishments nearing those that civilian justice systems routinely impose for such crimes.
In a number of other cases, there was no evidence that thorough or timely criminal investigations were conducted. Other cases weren’t prosecuted, and still others resulted in dismissals, light jail sentences or no jail sentence at all.
“I’ve been surprised at some of the lenient sentences,” said Gary Solis, a former military judge and prosecutor who teaches military law at the US Military Academy at West Point. “I have an uneasy suspicion that it relates to the nationality of the victim.”
Soldiers’ criminal acts, and the lack of punishment, add to the hatred that is fueling the insurgency in Iraq, putting soldiers at greater risk, Solis and other experts said.
“There’s been a decline for the respect for the rule of international law and a failure to understand that we, the United States, have to be the good guys,” Solis said.
Pentagon Defends Probes
A Daily News analysis of records from the Army Court-Martial Management Information System database found that 226 soldiers were charged with offenses between the first deployments and Jan. 1, 2005.
Of the 1,038 separate charges, fewer than one in 10 involved crimes against Iraqis. Virtually all of the rest, more than 900 charges, involved crimes against other soldiers, property, drug or alcohol offenses and violations of military rules.
Charges involving Iraqi victims were three times more likely to be dismissed or withdrawn by the Army than cases in which the victims were soldiers or civilian military employees, the examination found.
The Air Force and the Navy, which includes the Marine Corps, did not release comparable copies of their databases.
The Army did not challenge specific findings of the Daily News examination, but a Pentagon spokeswoman defended the service’s overall handling of criminal cases in Iraq.
“The Army has investigated every credible allegation of abuse or misconduct by US soldiers toward Iraq citizens,” says a written response from Lt. Col. Pamela Hart. “The process is designed to both assure proper punishment of offenses and protect rights of the accused. The end result is that punishments can vary based upon the myriad of potential facts and circumstances present in each case.”
The Daily News examination found that soldiers accused of property crimes or violations of military rules sometimes were dealt with more harshly than soldiers convicted of beating, robbing and even killing Iraqis.
Spec. David Driggers Jr. was convicted of adultery, wrongfully consuming alcohol and committing an indecent act by having consensual sex with a female soldier in an “open sleep area.”
Driggers was sentenced to six months, the combined sentence the Army handed out to both Genaro Trevino and Pfc. Raymond Garrett. The two were convicted of robbing an Iraqi shop owner at gunpoint after he allegedly sold them liquor.
The charges are felonies in virtually every jurisdiction in the United States, but the Army sent Trevino’s case to its version of misdemeanor court, which found him guilty of armed robbery and sentenced him to five months. Garrett, who was convicted of armed robbery as well as assault and battery, was sentenced to a one-month confinement. Each was found not guilty of kidnapping.
Solis, who presided over about 350 cases as a military judge and another 450 as prosecutor during his 26 years in the Marine Corps, said the sentences may reflect an attitude that all Iraqis are linked to the insurgency and are not deserving of justice.
“I think it’s an attitude that starts at the very top that these people (insurgents) somehow are beyond the law, and if they are beyond the law, they are essentially fair game,” he said.
Prosecutions tell only part of the story. In response to a Daily News federal Freedom of Information Act request for records on all deaths caused by soldiers in Iraq, the Army Criminal Investigation Command acknowledged 114 investigations between Jan. 1, 2003, and August 2004, and sent records on 105 cases.
Of those, 78 involved deaths of Army soldiers, while 27 involved Iraqis and other foreigners, about half the number of investigations the Army conducted into vehicle accidents involving soldiers.
During that same period, Iraqis filed at least 353 separate claims seeking compensation from the military for more than 400 deaths, and those claims represent only a portion of the civilian deaths US troops allegedly caused.
“In numerous cases, there are significant allegations that weren’t followed up on,” said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney who has investigated civilian deaths in Iraq for the American Civil Liberties Union. “We need to ask the question: Who’s responsible for creating the climate in which soldiers felt like these kinds of abuses, this kind of conduct, was acceptable or would be winked at?”
Christopher Grey, spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command, said it’s possible more cases are being investigated in Iraq but that field agents have not been able to do the paperwork.
He acknowledged that he had no records of investigations into four cases the Daily News examined that resulted in civil claims: separate shooting deaths involving an 11-year-old boy, an Iraqi judge, a taxi driver at a checkpoint and two Iraqis at a demonstration.
“If you have pertinent information or information where you believe a death has occurred that involves criminality, please bring it to our attention,” Grey said.
Even in cases in which the Army conducted criminal investigations, only a small percentage resulted in prosecutions, despite findings of sufficient evidence in some cases.
Of the 27 cases involving deaths of Iraqis and other foreign nationals identified in the files the Criminal Investigation Command released, 19 were determined to be accidental, justifiable or otherwise not warranting prosecution.
Of the remaining eight cases, four resulted in criminal convictions: two involving deaths of Iraqi civilians, one an Iraqi soldier and the other an Iraqi police officer.
An Army investigation found probable cause to believe that an Army specialist committed voluntary manslaughter when he “intentionally shot and killed” Malik Ghafel Mattar as the Iraqi teenager stole a box of military food rations in June 2003.
Military personnel have been giving the same rations to Iraqis, and Mattar was among children standing alongside the road waiting for candy and food from soldiers, Army records show.
A soldier riding in a vehicle directly behind the shooting scene told investigators that he didn’t see any Iraqis throwing rocks or other objects and that he never felt threatened. “Most were waving as they usually do,” the soldier told investigators.
Army records show that the military convoy didn’t stop to render aid to Mattar or to report the shooting. An Army investigator’s report says the accused soldier was surprised that the incident was under criminal investigation. “He seemed to be under the impression no one would care that he shot an Iraqi,” the investigator wrote.
The investigation was stopped after a commander decided to take no action against the soldier, and Army records show the soldier’s punishment was to be “counseled” by a commander.
Al-Hillali, whose home in Baghdad was ransacked by the two American soldiers, said the robbery changed his family’s “thought picture of Americans” and left his daughter, now 10, traumatized.
“Even now, when Rudenah sees Americans, she gets very scared. She hides in the car,” he said, adding that she became hysterical again in July when U.S. soldiers took cover near their house.
“She thought they had come back to our house.”
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