Detainee Coerced Into Dropping Charges of Abuse Before Release

February 18, 2005

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: media@aclu.org

U.S. Soldiers Posed in Photos of Mock Executions of Detainees; More Cases of Abuse Revealed in Newly Released Documents

NEW YORK--The American Civil Liberties Union today released files obtained from the Army revealing previously undisclosed allegations of abuse by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the documents are reports that a detainee who was beaten and seriously injured was forced to drop his claims in order to be released from custody.

"The torture of detainees is too widespread and systemic to be dismissed as the rogue actions of a few misguided individuals," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "The American public deserves to know which high-level government officials are ultimately responsible for the torture conducted in our name."

The release of these documents follows a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

In one file released today, an Iraqi detainee claimed that Americans in civilian clothing beat him in the head and stomach, dislocated his arms, "stepped on [his] nose until it [broke]," stuck an unloaded pistol in his mouth and fired the trigger, choked him with a rope and beat his leg with a baseball bat. Medical reports corroborated the detainee's account, stating that the detainee had a broken nose, fractured leg, and scars on his stomach. In addition, soldiers confirmed that Task Force 20 interrogators wearing civilian clothing had interrogated the detainee. However, after initially reporting the abuse, the detainee said that he was forced by an American soldier to sign a statement denouncing the claims or else be kept in detention indefinitely. He agreed.

An investigator who reviewed the signed statement concluded that "[t]his statement, alone, is a prima facie indication of threats." However, despite the medical report and testimony from other soldiers, the criminal file was ultimately closed on the grounds that the investigation had "failed to prove or disprove" the offenses.

Another file released today reports that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan posed for photographs of mock executions with hooded and bound detainees, and that some of these photographs were intentionally destroyed after the Abu Ghraib scandal to avoid "another public outrage."

The file concerns an investigation into the discovery of a CD during an office clean-up in Afghanistan in July 2004. The CD contained digital images of what appeared to be abuse and maltreatment of detainees in and around Fire Base Tycze in southern Afghanistan. The pictures showed uniformed soldiers pointing pistols and M-4 rifles at the heads and backs of bound and hooded detainees, and other abuses such as holding a detainee's head against the wall of a cage. One sergeant stated that he had also seen pictures on Army computers of detainees being kicked, hit or inhumanely treated while in U.S. custody. An Army Specialist and team leader with four soldiers assigned under him admitted that similar photographs had been destroyed after images of torture at Abu Ghraib prison were leaked to the media.

"These files provide more evidence, if any were needed, that abuse was not limited to Abu Ghraib," said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. "Unfortunately, it's now clear that the government failed to investigate many of these abuses until the Abu Ghraib photographs came to light."

Other photos discovered during the investigation showed bound U.S. soldiers in what is described as "an activity called PUC'ing (Person Under Control) a ritualistic activity done on birthdays, re-enlistments, and similar events, by fellow platoon members." The photographs showed hooded soldiers lying on the ground in the dirt with their hands and feet bound, while other soldiers poured water on them. The act apparently simulated the treatment of detainees who were designated as needing extra "control."

Additional cases of abuse revealed in the investigative files released today include:

  • Senior Psychological Operations (PsyOps) officers in Afghanistan reported witnessing indiscriminate assaults by Special Forces on civilians during raids in May 2004 in the villages of Gurjay and Sukhagen. Abuses included hitting and kicking villagers in the head, chest, back and stomach, and threatening to shoot them. An investigation into the allegations was closed, citing failure to "prove or disprove" the offenses because the victims and villagers could not be interviewed.
  • In Iraq, an investigation found probable cause that two U.S. soldiers committed the offense of assault when they punched and kicked a civilian whom they picked up at a roadblock, while a sergeant took pictures and videotaped part of the abuse. The soldiers then transported the man to an Iraqi prison, where they watched Iraqi police further abuse the detainee and kick him in the ribs before they left him there. A commander's report was pending in September 2004, and no punishment was recorded in the file.

Attorneys for the ACLU and other organizations named in the lawsuit will appear in federal court in New York on February 22 to address, among other things, the Defense Department's response to the FOIA request. The ACLU has previously charged that the department is unlawfully withholding several documents pertaining to the treatment of detainees, as well as photographic and video evidence. In the last two months, the Defense Department has turned over 21,600 pages of documents. However, more than 16,600 of these pages were already publicly available on the Internet.

"The Defense Department continues to stonewall and to withhold thousands of documents inappropriately," said Jaffer. "Astoundingly, it seems to be the Defense Department's view that the public simply does not have a right to know what the department's policies were or who put them in place."

The ACLU's Romero urged Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Tuesday to appoint a special counsel to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute civilians for their involvement in the torture of detainees.

In related news, a federal judge earlier this month rejected an attempt by the Central Intelligence Agency to indefinitely delay the processing and release of critical documents pertaining to torture. The CIA has indicated that it will appeal this decision. According to news reports, the CIA is currently seeking to scale back its role in detaining and interrogating suspected terrorists who are being held abroad.

The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Judy Rabinovitz and Omar Jadwat of the ACLU; Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

To view the documents, go to: /torturefoia/released/021605.html

More information on the ACLU lawsuit can be found at: www.aclu.org/torturefoia

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