U.S. Soldier Instructed Iraqi Detainee to Dig Own Grave, According to New Army Documents

May 19, 2005 12:00 am

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Documents Indicate Soldiers Used Religious Icons to Degrade Muslim Detainees, ACLU Says

NEW YORK -- New documents released by the Department of Defense reveal more cases of abuse including mock executions and use of a religious symbol to taunt detainees, the American Civil Liberties Union said today.

Documents Indicating That Religious Icons Were Used to Degrade Detainees (pdf)
Sworn statement of civilian interrogator stepping on Koran to disorient detainee
Sworn statement of civilian interrogator on using "Pride and Ego Down" technique
Army memo detailing use of "Star of David" to taunt Iraqi detainee
Detainee claimed soldiers ordered military dog to pick up the Koran in its mouth
Detainee claims soldiers threw the Koran on the floor and stepped on it

"While the White House blames Newsweek magazine for damaging America's reputation in the Muslim world, the Army's own investigations show systemic abuse and humiliation of Muslim men by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "If we are to truly repair America's standing, the Bush Administration must first hold accountable high-ranking officials who allow the continuing abuse and torture of detainees."

Almost 2,000 pages of Army documents were released Tuesday in response to a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a request under the Freedom of Information Act 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.

The latest documents include medical records and several hundred pages relating to Army investigations into abuse of Iraqi and Afghan detainees and civilians by U.S. forces. One investigation into abuses at Rifles Base in Ramadi, Iraq details an incident in July 2003 in which an Army captain took an Iraqi welder into the desert, told him to dig his own grave, verbally threatened to kill him and had other soldiers stage a shooting of the man.

In a separate incident uncovered in the Rifles Base investigation, the driver and passenger of an Iraqi fire truck were detained for failing to turn off the truck's headlights. Multiple soldiers reported that a captain kicked the detainees, threatened to kill them, and held a pistol to the head of one of the detainees, even though the detainees did not offer resistance of any kind. The detainees were released later that evening.

One document released indicates that a soldier at an internment facility in Iraq "wrongfully display[ed] the symbolic of the 'Star of David,'" threatened a detainee, and was "very disrespectful in gestures, which in turn insulted the Arabs that were present at the time." This latest document supports detainees' accounts that American soldiers routinely used religious symbols to degrade and humiliate them. In a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Human Rights First against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one Iraqi detainee charged that soldiers taunted him by having a military dog pick up the Koran in its mouth. Another Iraqi detainee claimed that soldiers threw the Koran on the floor and stepped on it. In addition, in a set of documents released by the FBI in response to the ACLU's FOIA in December, a Guantánamo detainee alleged that a guard told him he beat him because the guard was a Christian and the detainee was a Muslim.

"The government's own documents describe literally hundreds of instances in which prisoners have been abused by U.S. military and intelligence personnel," said ACLU Staff Attorney Jameel Jaffer. "In light of what the documents show, it is simply astounding that senior military and civilian officials still have not been held accountable."

Additional records released this week include:

  • An Army document dated December 30, 2003 stating that three Army personnel received administrative punishments -- rather than criminal sanctions -- for abuse of Iraqi detainees. A Master Sergeant was found guilty of knocking an Iraqi detainee to the ground, repeatedly kicking him in the groin, abdomen and head, and encouraging her subordinates to do the same. A Staff Sergeant was found guilty of holding a detainee's legs apart while other soldiers kicked him in the groin, abdomen and head. A third soldier was found guilty of violently twisting a detainee's previously injured arm and causing him to scream in pain.
  • A July 15, 2004 information paper on an incident involving two Iraqi men detained in Samarra. The men were driven to a bridge, where a platoon leader instructed three soldiers to push the detainees into the river. One of the Iraqi men could not swim and drowned. The other survived and reported the incident to different U.S. soldiers. The body was recovered by the family 12 days later and buried. One soldier indicated to investigators that the chain of command had instructed the soldiers not to cooperate with the investigation and to deny that they pushed the men into the river.
  • A May 3, 2004 information paper describing the deaths of two Afghan detainees at Bagram, Afghanistan. One man died from an embolism that the medical examiner "attributed to blows that he received combined with immobility due to restraint." The other died from aggravation or a coronary artery condition "brought on by complications that arose from blows that he received from the stress from being restrained in a standing position." None of the soldiers had been formally charged as of the writing of this report.

To date, more than 35,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia.

The documents released this week are online at: /torturefoia/released/051805/.

Details about the Rumsfeld lawsuit are online at www.aclu.org/rumsfeld.

The FOIA 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, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur N. Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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