WASHINGTON: A leaked report on a military investigation into two killings of detainees at a US prison in Afghanistan has produced new evidence of connivance of senior officers in systematic prisoner abuse. The investigation shows the military intelligence officers in charge of the detention centre at Bagram airport were redeployed to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2003, while still under investigation for the deaths of two detainees months earlier. Despite military prosecutors’ recommendations, the officers involved have yet to be charged. The Bagram case also suggests that some of the prison guards were given little if any training in handling detainees, and were influenced by a White House directive that “terrorist” suspects did not deserve the rights given to prisoners of war under the Geneva convention.
The prosecution dossier from the army’s investigation into Bagram, leaked to the New York Times, deals with the deaths of detainees Dilawar and Habibullah (both, as is common for Afghans, taking a single name). Dilawar was a taxi driver who appears to have driven past a US military base soon after a rocket attack. Habibullah was handed over to the US by an Afghan warlord, and was identified as the brother of a Taliban commander. Both men were seized in late 2002, interrogated, beaten and killed in a hangar used for holding detainees who were being vetted for dispatch to Guantanamo Bay.
The two were chained to the ceilings of their cells for days at a time and beaten on the legs. They had been subjected to a blow known as the “common peroneal strike”, aimed at a point just below the knee and intended to disable. Coroners in the Habibullah case said his legs “had basically been pulpified” and looked as though they had been run over by a bus. Last October, the army’s criminal investigation command found probable cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted soldiers with offences ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter in the Dilawar case. Charges were also recommended against 15 of them for the Habibullah case. Only seven soldiers have been charged, all junior ranks.
John Galligan, a Texas lawyer defending one of them — Private First Class Willie Brand — told the Guardian: “It happened over a period of time and involved a large number of individuals. To turn around and charge PFC Brand fails to take account of the environment and standard operating procedures. “What is particularly offensive to me is that senior officials have gone unscathed.” Asked about the latest revelations, President George Bush said on Friday: “I think about over 20% of the people thus far that have been held to account as a result of the Abu Ghraib issue have been officers. I’m comfortable that we’re getting to the bottom of the situation. And I know we’re doing so in a transparent way.”
Sergeant James Leahy told investigators that after February 2002 directive from Mr Bush that the Geneva convention did not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, interrogators believed they “could deviate slightly from the rules”. The Pentagon denied that the Abu Ghraib scandal could have been prevented if the Bagram abuses had been investigated faster. Carrying out an inquiry in Afghanistan was bound to take longer. But John Sifton, an Afghanistan expert at Human Rights Watch, said this was “a convenient excuse”. “The White House always put forward, that Abu Ghraib was an exception, just some rotten apples,” he said. “But US personnel in Afghanistan were involved in killings and torture of prisoners well before the Iraq war even started. “The story begins in Afghanistan.” —Dawn/The Guardian News Service