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Inquiries Are Underway, so Far Without Charges

Firebase Gardez / A Times Investigation

September 25, 2006

In the years since ODA 2021 returned to its red-clay roots, the interrogation methods practiced by some Special Forces units in Afghanistan migrated to Iraq.

Early warnings seem to have been disregarded. In Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross complained of mistreatment as early as December 2002. It delivered a private report to top U.S. military commanders alleging widespread abuse at the firebases at the very time Parre and his men were being held in Gardez.

The Red Cross had interviewed more than 40 former firebase detainees who described beatings, kickings, verbal threats, sleep and food deprivation, immersion in icy water and prolonged exposure to extreme cold, according to a copy of the previously undisclosed report, which was obtained from U.S. government sources.

Initially, U.S. officials reacted skeptically, dismissing the Red Cross claims.

"Don't get all spun up on this," advised Maj. Rhyne, the Special Operations officer, in a note to battalion commanders. "Just let the teams know there were allegations but no proof."

Capt. Sean McMahon, a judge advocate general for the Special Operations task force, wrote to others on the headquarters staff that the allegations were vague. But he said Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, then commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, wanted all interrogators reminded of proper methods.

The interrogators needed to understand, McMahon wrote, that "if they are implementing certain procedures, they must cease."

Some members of ODA 2021 have come under criminal investigation stemming from the deaths of Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed. No one has been charged, and the names of those targeted by the inquiry have not been released.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command has no timetable for completing the inquiries into either death, spokesman Christopher P. Grey said.

The investigations have proved challenging, he said, because of difficulties locating witnesses and barriers in language and culture. The families refused to allow the exhumation of either victim, citing religious beliefs.

But the investigators also have been hampered by missteps.

When the CID first looked into Naseer's death, it was unable to identify the victim and dropped the matter quickly. After he was identified by The Times and the Crimes of War Project, the case was reopened. In Mohammed's case, investigators operated for at least a year under the assumption that he had died two months earlier than he did.

Last year, Army investigators recommended that one soldier be charged with murder in the Wazi shooting, and another with dereliction of duty for not reporting the incident. The recommendations were sent to the U.S. Army Special Forces Command at Ft. Bragg.

The case was reopened last year, and the CID spokesman would not say whether the agency was pursuing similar charges more than a year later.

The Times attempted to interview every member of ODA 2021 and others in the chain of command. One who declined to be interviewed was former team leader Waller, who said he preferred to let the military legal system finish its work. "I'm not at liberty to discuss it while it's under investigation," he said. Waller continues to work full time at the 20th Group headquarters. Champion, the National Guard colonel who directed all Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2002-03, was promoted to general in 2004. He recently completed a tour as deputy commanding general over all operations in Afghanistan.

He acknowledged in a telephone interview that he had been contacted by Army investigators, but he declined to comment further.

"We'll see what happens with the investigation and where it goes," he said.

Pacha Khan remained a problem for the American forces well after the 20th Group's departure.

Over the next two years, however, the warlord grudgingly ended hostilities with the Afghan government and became part of it.

In 2004, his youngest son was appointed governor of the new administrative district of Wazi Zadran. And last fall, the warlord himself made a bid for elected office.

Today, the nemesis of ODA 2021 is a member of the new Afghan parliament.


About this series


"Firebase Gardez" examines the deployment to Afghanistan of a decorated Alabama National Guard unit. It is the result of a yearlong investigation in the U.S. and Afghanistan by Times staff writer Kevin Sack and freelance investigative journalist Craig Pyes. It was written by Sack.

Pyes, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and frequent contributor to the newspaper, reported from Afghanistan jointly for The Times and the Crimes of War Project, a Washington-based nonprofit that describes itself as "a collaboration of journalists, lawyers and scholars dedicated to raising public awareness of the laws of war." In 2004, the group provided The Times with the first evidence of an unreported Afghan death in U.S. custody and joined with the newspaper to investigate further. That led to a military inquiry by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command that continues today.

The Times reviewed thousands of pages of internal military documents to reconstruct the period when a 10-member Special Forces combat team called ODA 2021 (for Operational Detachment Alpha) was assigned to the Gardez firebase.

Every member of the team was contacted. Most declined to be interviewed or referred reporters to public affairs officers. The Army and all of its subordinate commands -- the U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command, Army Special Forces Command, 20th Special Forces Group and the Alabama National Guard -- declined to comment.

Times researchers Nona Yates and Janet Lundblad contributed to these reports.

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