BBC & Newsnight & Human Rights First – 2006-02-24 00:10:10
US Soldiers Face Accusations of Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan
Newsnight / Al Jazeera
(February 22, 2006) — Nearly 100 prisoners have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, the Human Rights First organisation has said ahead of publication of a new report.
At least 98 deaths occurred, with at least 34 of them suspected or confirmed murder and manslaughter (deliberate or reckless killing), the group of US lawyers told BBC television on Tuesday.
Their dossier claims that 11 more deaths are deemed suspicious and that between eight and 12 prisoners were tortured to death.
However, charges are rare and sentences are light, the report said.
The report comes a week after new photographs of alleged prisoner abuse at Baghdad’s US-run Abu Ghraib prison emerged.
The report alleged that one person was made to jump off a bridge into the Tigris river in Iraq and another forced inside a sleeping bag and suffocated.
The number of deaths in custody discounts those due to fighting, mortar attacks or violence between detainees. They were directly attributable to their detention or interrogation in American custody, the BBC’s Newsnight programme said.
The report’s editor Deborah Pearlstein told Newsnight: “We’re extremely comfortable with the veracity and the reliability of the facts here.
“These are documents based on army investigative reports, documents that we’ve obtained from the government or that have come out through freedom of information act requests in the United States”
Deborah Pearlstein, Human Rights First organisation stated: “These are documents based on army investigative reports, documents that we’ve obtained from the government or that have come out through freedom of information act requests in the United States.”
Newsnight was told by the US Pentagon: “We haven’t seen the report yet. Where we find allegations of maltreatment we take them very seriously and prosecute.”
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, told the BBC: “There are thousands of prisoners that have been held by the coalition during the past more than two years.
“Some have died of natural causes and there have been charges of abuse. Of course, we always investigate and determine what happened and appropriate punishment is given if the judgment is made that illegal actions took place.
“If those reports are true, of course they would be terrible abuses and they would be illegal things. Those who are responsible for them would be investigated and they will be punished.”
However, David Rivkin, a former White House legal adviser, said the numbers had to be put in perspective.
“[If] 10 people were tortured to death out of over 100,000 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan” that was “a better rate” than in both world wars and “most civilian penal systems”.
“It is not a scandal. Bad things happen in detention. A lot of them died for reasons that have nothing to do with it.”
Amnesty International UK demanded an investigation into the deaths.
A spokesman said: “We want to see the US and its allies allowing a full independent and impartial investigation into these deaths, as well as mounting incidents of alleged torture and other mistreatment.
“We’ve also raised with the Americans the question of overly lenient sentences for those found guilty of torturing prisoners to death in Afghanistan.”
US Guilty of Torture, Murder
Jill Savitt / Human Rights First
Previously unseen photographs from Abu Ghraib, the UN report recommending closure of Guantanamo, and the government whistleblower hearings — all in the news last week — put a new spotlight on torture and abuse in US facilities.
But the media is showing you only a small part of the picture. Human Rights First has independently and tirelessly researched US mistreatment of detainees — a problem that goes far beyond Abu Ghraib. Just today we released an eye-opening report, titled Command’s Responsibility.
We came to a disturbing conclusion: Dozens of detainees were killed in US custody, 8 of whom were tortured to death. In most cases, not one person was held responsible. Even more distressing, no higher-level officials have faced a criminal charge, even as they are the root of the problem.
This can be fixed. America’s reputation can be restored. Please ask President Bush to adopt a “zero tolerance” policy for commanders who allow torture and abuse to occur on their watch.
This zero-tolerance approach requires:
• Immediate and full implementation of Sen. John McCain’s ban on torture and cruel treatment. You helped this become law; now we must ensure it becomes practice.
• Written orders from the President, as Commander in Chief, to military commanders and civilian leaders of the intelligence agencies, in which the President specifies that abuses like waterboarding, stress positions, sexual humiliation, beatings, and other cruel and inhuman treatment are illegal and will not be tolerated.
• All those who authorize or engage in wrongdoing must be held accountable.
Not only did commanders fail to give troops clear guidance, they inadequately investigated the cases – and they must be held accountable for unlawful acts about which they knew or should have known. As long as commanders can get away with this unlawful behavior, the problem of torture and abuse will persist.
The Pentagon claims these abuses are being adequately addressed – yet investigators failed to interview key witnesses, and failed to collect or maintain useable evidence. Out of the 34 detainee deaths the government classifies as homicides, only 12 have resulted in punishment of any kind.
Urge President Bush to make sure we close this dangerous accountability gap and fix the problem.
This is a critical step, not only in the interest of justice but also as a matter of national security. If not addressed, this problem will continue to expose our troops to needless risk – and will increase the likelihood that torture and abuse will continue.
Thank you for sharing our conviction that torture should not be tolerated.
— Jill Savitt is Director of Campaigns for Human Rights First.
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