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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Details of Marines Mistreating Prisoners in Iraq Are Revealed

December 15, 2004|Richard A. Serrano | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Marines in Iraq conducted mock executions of juvenile prisoners last year, burned and tortured other detainees with electrical shocks, and warned a Navy corpsman they would kill him if he treated any injured Iraqis, according to military documents made public Tuesday.

The latest revelations of prisoner abuse cases, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against the government, involved previously unknown incidents in which 11 Marines were punished for abusing detainees. Military officials indicated that they had investigated 13 other cases, but deemed them unsubstantiated. Four investigations are pending.

Military superiors handed down sentences of up to a year in confinement after finding Marines guilty of offenses ranging from assault to "cruelty and mistreatment," the documents show.

The new documents are the latest in a series of reports, e-mails and other records that the ACLU has obtained to bolster its contention that the abuse of prisoners goes far beyond the handful of soldiers charged with abusing detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The photographs of naked Iraqi prisoners being tortured by American troops at the prison shocked the world in April. The scandal involved abuse by reservists and members of the Army and National Guard; the latest cases elaborated for the first time on numerous allegations of abuse by Marines.

The mistreatment occurred as early as May 2003, months before the first allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib were recorded. And the most recent case involving prisoner abuse by the Marines occurred in June, two months after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU in New York, placed responsibility for the abuse on the Pentagon. "This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order," he said.

Lawrence Di Rita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said he could not comment on the latest cases because he was unfamiliar with them.

The documents described Navy criminal investigators scrambling to keep pace in June with an "exploding" number of abuse cases.

"Heads up," an assistant special agent in charge of the Navy's investigative field office in the Middle East wrote to his superiors in a 6 a.m. e-mail June 14, pleading for more investigators. "Case load is exploding, high visibility cases are on the rise," he warned. "We have scrubbed all of our personnel and have no other trained personnel available to deploy."

Cases involving prisoner abuse continue to tarnish the U.S. military's involvement in Iraq. Since the Abu Ghraib scandal, revelations have surfaced of other detainee abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the prison for terrorism suspects at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Authorities have charged eight prison guards for beating and sexually humiliating prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad last fall. At least two prisoners at Abu Ghraib died in custody.

In all, about three dozen prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan are believed to have died in U.S. custody.

The cases are in various stages of investigation or prosecution. The Pentagon confirmed this week that four soldiers were accused of killing a prisoner in Afghanistan in 2002, but charges against three of them were dropped.

In the case that drew the stiffest punishment, a one-year prison sentence for the Marine, a detainee at Mahmoudiya was shocked with an electric transformer. Wires were held against his shoulders, and "the detainee danced as he was shocked," the documents state.

The new records -- which blacked out the names of soldiers -- also show that a Marine was convicted of ordering four juvenile Iraqi looters to kneel down beside two shallow holes in Diwaniya. Then, "a pistol was discharged to conduct a mock execution." The Marine was sentenced to 30 days imprisonment with hard labor.

Other Marines were punished for physically abusing prisoners. In Karbala, a Marine held a 9-millimeter pistol to the back of a detainee's head while another Marine snapped a picture. A glass of water then was poured on the prisoner's head, and he was photographed with an American flag draped over his body.

A detainee in Mahmoudiya suffered second-degree burns and blisters on the back of his hands when "a Marine guard squirted alcohol-based sanitizer" on him. A match was lighted, igniting the prisoner.

Navy investigators found other allegations unsubstantiated, including sexual abuse cases alleging that a detainee's testicles had been squeezed and another prisoner had been sodomized with a rifle muzzle.

Navy investigators also interviewed a group of corpsmen from Washington state who were dispatched to Iraq last year. Two of them spoke about being intimidated by Marines there.

One corpsman said he was cautioned not to talk to others about prisoner abuse. "There was a lot of peer pressure to keep one's mouth shut," he said.

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