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6 in Military Police Charged With Abuse

U.S. officers, suspended earlier, are accused of mistreating Iraqi detainees at a prison.

March 21, 2004|Alissa J. Rubin | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military announced Saturday that it had charged six of its military police officers with abusing Iraqi detainees held in Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad, an institution notorious for its brutal treatment of prisoners during former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's rule.

U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said the 800th Military Police Brigade officers were charged with six crimes, including cruelty and maltreatment of prisoners, assault, and indecent acts with another, as well as conspiracy and dereliction of duty.

"That's the kind of cancer that you have to cut out quickly. You've got to address it very, very quickly," Kimmitt said.

The six charged were among 17 U.S. troops -- including a battalion commander and a company commander -- who had been suspended from duty after abuse allegations surfaced.

All 17 remain suspended pending the outcome of an inquiry by the Army's Criminal Investigation Division Command.

The 17 soldiers are still in Iraq, said Kimmitt, who declined to identify them. If they are court-martialed, a trial would be held in Iraq or elsewhere at the discretion of the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

It was not clear what punishment the troops would face if convicted. Last year, a lieutenant colonel in the Tikrit region, charged with firing his gun near a detainee to intimidate him into a confession and punching the man, was allowed to pay a fine and retire from the military.

In the case of the military police officers, two investigations were initiated: an administrative inquiry examining possible failures in the chain of command that could have allowed such crimes to occur and a criminal investigation into the acts.

Saturday's announcement marks the referral of the criminal investigation to the military equivalent of a grand jury.

The human rights organization Amnesty International says it has recorded allegations of maltreatment and says it has documented several cases of abuse. In only a handful of cases have U.S. troops been charged with the abuse of Iraqi detainees since the start of major combat.

In January, the Army announced that it had discharged three soldiers for mistreating detainees at a facility called Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. The action stemmed from an incident May 12 in which investigators found that at least one detainee was held down while soldiers beat and kicked him at the urging of their superior, Master Sgt. Lisa Girman.

In October, eight U.S. Marine reservists, including two officers, were charged with mistreating Iraqi prisoners of war at a detention facility called Camp Whitehorse. Military prosecutors allege that an Iraqi man died there in June after being dragged from a cell by a U.S. guard.

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Said Rifai of The Times' Baghdad Bureau contributed to this report.

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