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Torture themes

Torture, abuse, rights' violations
Indications of Abuse
Prisoner deaths
High-level complicity
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Torture, rendition, and other abuses against captives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere: Cases of prisoner deaths, murders and executions


Project: Prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere

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June 5, 2002

       At the Camp Whitehorse detention center near Nassiriya, Iraq, US marines beat and choke Najem Sa'doun Hattab, a former Ba'ath Party official, and then drag him by the neck to his cell. Hattab dies from his injuries. [San Diego Union Tribune, 2/3/2004; Human Rights Watch, 3/18/2004]
People and organizations involved: Najem Sa'doun Hattab

December 3, 2002

       Mullah Habibullah, a 30-year-old Afghan from the Oruzgan province, dies while being held at Bagram Air Base. Officially, he dies of pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in the lung. [New York Times, 3/4/03; Guardian, 3/7/03; Washington Post, 3/5/03; BBC, 3/6/03] His death certificate specifies homicide as the cause of death and rules that he died, in part, from blunt force injuries. [Washington Post, 3/5/03]
People and organizations involved: Mullah Habibullah

December 5, 2002

       Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan farmer and part-time taxi driver from the small village of Yakubi in eastern Afghanistan, is picked up by local authorities and turned over to US soldiers on suspicions that he was involved in a missile attack on the American base at Khost. He is then sent to Bagram Air Base. Witnesses will later tell the New York Times that Dilawar appeared weak and unhealthy upon his arrival. Five days later, Dilawar will be found dead in his cell (see December 10, 2002). [New York Times, 3/4/03; Guardian, 3/7/03; Independent 3/7/03 Sources: Unnamed witnesses who are later interviewed by the New York Times]
People and organizations involved: Dilawar

December 10, 2002

       Dilawar, the Afghan farmer that was detained by US troops on December 5 (see December 5, 2002), is found dead in his cell. The pathologist who records his death, Maj. Elizabeth A. Rouse, writes on Dilawar's death certificate that he died from “blunt force injuries to lower extremities complicating coronary artery disease.” She marks “homicide” as the cause of death. Months later, New York Times reporter, Carlotta Gall, learns of and investigates Dilawar's death and confirms the death certificate's authenticity with the US military. She also interviews Dilawar's family and friends who describe the 22-year-old farmer as being young and inexperienced. “He had never spent a night away from his father and mother,” his brother says. Dilawar was married and the father of a 2-year-old girl. [New York Times, 3/4/03; Washington Post, 3/5/03; BBC, 3/6/03; Guardian, 3/7/03; Independent 3/7/03]
People and organizations involved: Carlotta Gall, Dilawar

January 2003

       US forces arrest and detain an Iraqi for possession of explosive devices. The man is held at FOB Rifles Base in Asad, Iraq, and eventually placed in an isolation cell for questioning by members of the US Special Forces' Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) who shackle him to a pipe that runs along the ceiling. When the Iraqi lunges toward a US soldier, grabbing his shirt, “[t]he three ODA members [punch] and [kick] [him] in the stomach and ribs for approximately one to two minutes.” Three days later, the man escapes but is recaptured on January 9. The prisoner is then subjected to another round of questioning, but does not cooperate. When he refuses to be quiet, the soldiers tie his hands to the top of his cell door and then gag him. Five minutes later, a soldier notices that the Iraqi is “slumped down and hanging from his shackles” dead. [Denver Post, 5/18/2004]

April 2003

       An Iraqi prisoner of war is beaten while being interrogated by members of the Naval Special Warfare Team at the LSA Diamondback facility in Mosul, Iraq. He is later found dead in his sleep. The death report will conclude that the man died from “blunt-force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia.” [Denver Post, 5/18/2004]

(May 2003)

       In a homemade video journal, an unidentified female US soldier at Camp Bucca prison in Iraq candidly speaks of how she and her colleagues have shot and killed prisoners. “If we shoot any more of the Iraqis, or attack any of them, they're gonna supposedly come in and attack the camp.... But we'll believe that when it actually happens, because we've already killed another Iraqi just last night when I was working. So I don't know what's going on...” She does not describe under what circumstances the shootings had taken place. In another part of the video she admits to antagonizing the captives. “I actually got in trouble the other day because I was throwing rocks at them.” [CBS News, 3/12/2004]

May 25, 2003

       The Mail on Sunday reports that according to Major-General Geoffrey Miller, the US is considering plans to build an execution chamber at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay where suspected terrorists, convicted by a secret military tribunal for capital crimes, would be put to death. “Prisoners would be tried, convicted and executed without leaving its boundaries, without a jury and without right of appeal.” [The Mail on Sunday, 5/25/2003 cited in Courrier Mail, 5/26/2003] Britain claims that it is unaware of the US plans. [Courrier Mail, 5/26/2003]
People and organizations involved: Geoffrey Miller  Additional Info 

June 2003

       An Iraqi prisoner is bound to a chair and interrogated by soldiers at a “classified interrogation facility” in Baghdad. He later dies. The autopsy will report that the man was “subjected to both physical and psychological stress” and died from a “hard, fast blow” to the head. [Denver Post, 5/18/2004]

June 12, 2003

       Prisoners being held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq hold demonstrations protesting their living conditions. In response to the protest, prison authorities promise to inform each of the prisoners about the status and expected length of their detention the following day. [Amnesty International, 6/30/2003] Additionally, two people attempting to escape the facility are shot. One dies of his wounds after being taken to a hospital. [Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

June 13, 2003

       Prisoners being held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq hold another demonstration after prison authorities fail to follow through on a promise (see June 12, 2003) to provide the detainees with information about their status. Some of the demonstrators throw bricks and poles at the soldiers, but remain within the razor wire fence surrounding the tents and are not a threat to the soldiers. In response, the prison guards fire into the detention area, killing 22-year-old Ala' Jassem Sa'ad, who is in one of the tents. Seven others who are sharing the tent are injured. [Amnesty International, 6/30/2003]
People and organizations involved: Ala' Jassem Sa'ad

July 23, 2003

       Amnesty International sends a memorandum to the US government and Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) titled, “Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order,” which states that the organization “has received a number of reports of torture or ill-treatment by Coalition Forces not confined to criminal suspects.” The memo explains that Coalition troops are using a number of methods, including “prolonged sleep deprivation; prolonged restraint in painful positions, sometimes combined with exposure to loud music; prolonged hooding; and exposure to bright lights.” Amnesty makes it very clear that these actions constitute “torture or inhuman treatment” and are prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and by international human rights law. [Sources: Iraq: Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order] The memorandum also informs the CPA that there are reports that prisoners have been killed by Coalition Forces. “Amnesty International has received a number of reports of cases of detainees who have died in custody, mostly as a result of shooting by members of the Coalition Forces. Other cases of deaths in custody where ill-treatment may have caused or contributed to death have been reported.” [Sources: Iraq: Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order] The Coalition Provisional Authority does not provide any response to Amnesty International's memo or provide any indication that the allegations will be investigated. [Amnesty International, 5/7/2004]
People and organizations involved: Amnesty International

September 11, 2003

       A US military guard at the FOB Packhorse detention facility in Iraq fatally shoots a detainee who is throwing rocks. [Denver Post, 5/18/2004]

September 22, 2003

       At Camp Bucca in Iraq, a Coalition soldier shoots a prisoner who is throwing stones. A February 2004 International Committee of the Red Cross report will recount: “Following unrest in a section of the camp one person deprived of his liberty, allegedly throwing stones, was fired upon by a guard in a watchtower. He suffered a gunshot wound to the upper part of the chest, the bullet passed through the chest and exited form [sic] the back.... An ICRC delegate and interpreter witnessed most of the events. At no point did the persons deprived of their liberty, and the victim shot at, appear to pose a serious threat to the life or security of the guards who could have responded to the situation with less brutal measures. The shooting showed a clear disregard for human life and security of the persons deprived of their liberty.” [Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

October 2003-December 2003

       At the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, US soldiers, intelligence operatives, and at least two civilian contractors participate in “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” —including rape and murder—against Iraqi prisoners as part of a program to soften them up prior to interrogation. The worst of these atrocities are committed against prisoners being held in cell blocks 1A and 1B. Members of the 372nd Military Police Company, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade (MI), the covert “Copper Green” special-access program, and the CIA are involved in the program. [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004; The New Yorker, 5/17/2004; The New Yorker, 5/24/2004; The Guardian, 5/12/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004; Washington Post, 5/8/2004; Washington Post, 5/21/2004 Sources: US Army Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse, Photos of tortured prisoners]
Evidence - The evidence for these crimes includes statements from witnesses, admissions, court documents, testimonies from detainees and thousands of photographs and videos later leaked to the military's Criminal Investigative Division (CID) in January (see January 13, 2004) and to the media in April (see Mid-April 2004). [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004; The New Yorker, 5/17/2004 Sources: Photos of tortured prisoners, Testimonies of detainees held in cell blocks 1A and 1B]

Abuses - Prisoners held in cell bocks 1A and 1B are subjected to the following abuses: detainees are hooded, shackled and deprived of sleep; male detainees are forced to engage in simulated homosexual activities and made to masturbate in front of one another and female MPs; detainees are kicked and punched; at least one male detainee is raped by an Army translator; at least one male detainee is sodomized with a chemical light and a nightstick; detainees are forced to crawl on the ground with MPs riding on their backs; at least one detainee is made to crawl on broken glass, female detainees are forced to strip; some female detainees are raped multiple times by multiple MPs; detainees are intimidated by unmuzzled dogs and at least one man is bitten; male detainees are forced to walk around naked with women's underwear on their heads; male detainees are forced to wear women's underwear; detainees are deprived of medical attention; detainees are forced to retrieve their meals from toilets tossed there by MPs; male detainees are fondled by female soldiers and one male detainee is forced to have sex with a female soldier; detainees are dragged by MPs on a leash and forced to bark like a dog; detainees are hooded and forced to stand on a box with their arms spread and wires dangling from their fingers, toes and penis and told that if they fall of the box they would be electrocuted and at least one is shocked three times; at least one male detainee is made fun of because of his deformed hand; and at least one detainee is forced to denounce Islam and “Thank Jesus that I'm alive.” [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004; The New Yorker, 5/17/2004; The New Yorker, 5/24/2004; The Guardian, 5/12/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004; Washington Post, 5/8/2004; Washington Post, 5/21/2004; The Guardian, 5/20/2004; The Age, 5/21/2004; Time, 6/20/2004]
One prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, dies from injuries inflicted by prison personnel or by the CIA officers who brought him there (see (October 2003)). These tactics reportedly have a severe psychological effect on some of the detainees. The International Committee of the Red Cross will report in February 2004: “The ICRC medical delegate examined persons deprived of their liberty presenting signs of concentration difficulties, memory problems, verbal expression difficulties, incoherent speech, acute anxiety reactions, abnormal behavior and suicidal tendencies. These symptoms appeared to have been caused by the methods and duration of interrogation. One person held in isolation that the ICRC examined was unresponsive to verbal and painful stimuli. His heart rate was 120 beats per minute and his respiratory rate 18 per minute. He was diagnosed as suffering from somatoform (mental) disorder, specifically a conversion disorder, most likely due to the ill-treatment he was subjected to during interrogation.”
High-level compilicity - After the torture scandal is reported in the press, the Bush administration will claim the abuses had been the work of only a few rogue MPs—without the knowledge or approval of intelligence. But evidence will clearly indicate otherwise. A few of the pictures will show that non-uniformed military intelligence officers and civilian contractors were present during some of the abuses. [The New Yorker, 5/17/2004; The New Zealand Herald, 5/13/2004 Sources: US Army Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse, Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]
Additionally, MPs will say that the orders were coming directly from military intelligence. Sergeant Javal Davis, one of the MPs, later explains: “I witnessed prisoners in the MI hold section ... being made to do various things that I would question morally ... In Wing 1A we were told that they had different rules.” Military Intelligence reportedly told the MPs “ ‘Loosen this guy up for us.’ ‘Make sure he has a bad night.’ ‘Make sure he gets the treatment.’ ” When the MPs did as they were told, MI would say things like, “Good job, they're breaking down real fast. They answer every question. They're giving out good information.” [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004; Washington Post, 5/8/2004 Sources: US Army Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse] A prisoner's account will also indicate that the orders were coming from above (see November 29, 2003-March 28, 2004).
Interrogations - The interrogations take place at two facilities within Abu Ghraib known as the Wood Building and the Steel Building. But it is unclear precisely who is in charge. In addition to the known involvement of the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, there is evidence suggesting that CIA and SAP operatives (see (Mid-September 2003-October 2003)) are also involved. Two civilian contractors—Steven Stephanowicz, an interrogator working for Virginia-based CACI International, and John B. Israel who works for SOS Interpreting Ltd.—also play a leading part in the interrogations. Unlike their counterparts in MI, they are not bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, though they are required to obey civilian law (it is not clear whether they are bound by US or Iraq law). Little is known about the two civilians. [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004; The New Yorker, 5/17/2004; The Signal, 6/2/2004]
After the torture scandal is revealed in the press, Stephanowicz is rumored to be CIA [Knight Ridder, 5/8/2004]
People and organizations involved: Steven Stephanowicz, John B. Israel

(October 2003)

       The CIA brings a hooded detainee, later identified as Manadel al-Jamadi, to Abu Ghraib. The man is brought directly to the showers where he is shackled and left alone to await interrogation. About an hour later, he dies from untreated headwounds that had been concealed by the sandbag on his head. Prison personnel will claim they were unaware of the man's head injuries and that he had not yet been interrogated. Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II will write to his family in the United States in November 2003 that the CIA had “stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. [Prison personnel] put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for approximately twenty-four hours in the shower.... The next day the medics came and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.” The prisoner is never entered into the prison's inmate-control system and therefore there is no record of him being admitted to the facility. [The New Yorker, 5/7/2004; The Age, 5/21/2004]
People and organizations involved: Manadel al-Jamadi, Ivan L. Frederick II

October 18, 2003

       The Associated Press submits a list of questions to US command about specific accounts from former detainees regarding torture, execution and poor living conditions at Coalition detention centers in Iraq. US command does not respond. [The Associated Press, 10/29/2004]

November 2003

       Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, who previously headed Saddam Hussein's air force, turns himself in for questioning. He is sent to the Al Qaim detention facility northwest of Baghdad. Two weeks into his detention, on November 27, he is interrogated by two soldiers with the 66th Military Intelligence Company. They force him head-first into a sleeping bag and question him as they roll him back and forth. One of the soldiers then sits on the Iraqi general's chest and covers his mouth. The prisoner dies of affixation. An internal government document later recounts: “During this interrogation, the [general] became non-responsive, medics were called and he was later pronounced dead. The preliminary report lists the cause of death as asphyxia due to smothering and chest compressions.” Later that day, US military officials issue a statement saying that a prisoner has died of natural causes during questioning. “Mowhoush said he didn't feel well and subsequently lost consciousness,” the statement reads. “The soldier questioning him found no pulse, then conducted CPR and called for medical authorities. According to the on-site surgeon, it appeared Mowhouse died of natural causes.” [Combined Joint Task Force, 11/27/2003; Denver Post, 5/18/2004]
People and organizations involved: Abed Hamed Mowhoush

February 24, 2004

       The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) files a report with Coalition Authorities complaining that its soldiers and intelligence officers have been arresting and detaining Iraqis without cause, routinely using excessive force during the initial stages of detention, and subjecting prisoners to extreme physical and emotional abuse. The report is based on 29 visits to 14 detention centers in Iraq between March 31 and October 24, 2003, during which time ICRC workers privately interviewed thousands of prisoners. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004; New York Times, 5/11/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs] Among its findings:
According to “certain CF (Coalition Forces) military intelligence officers,” 70 to 90 percent of the detainees being held in captivity had been “arrested by mistake.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Captives were not informed of the reason for their arrest or provided with access to legal counsel. “They were often questioned without knowing what they were accused of. They were not allowed to ask questions and were not provided with an opportunity to seek clarification about the reason for their arrest.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

There were eight instances in which American guards shot at their captives resulting in seven prisoner deaths and 18 injuries. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

During the initial stages of captivity, prisoners were subjected to brutality which sometimes caused serious injury or death. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were subjected to physical and psychological coercion, which in “some cases was tantamount to torture.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were kept in prolonged solitary confinement in cells in complete darkness. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prison guards and soldiers used excessive and disproportionate use of force. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners being held in Unit 1A of Abu Ghraib were kept “completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness.” Some of the prisoners were forced into “acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women's underwear over the [sic] heads for prolonged periods—while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position.” [New York Times, 5/11/2004; Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners' hands were often bound with flexi-cuffs so tightly that the captive incurred skin wounds and nerve damage. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Soldiers pressed prisoners' faces into the ground with their combat boots. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were beaten with pistols and rifles and were slapped, punched or kicked with knees or boots. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were threatened with execution and transferred to Guantanamo. Some captives were told that their family members would be harmed. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were deprived of adequate sleep, food, water and access to open air. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Prisoners were subjected to forced and prolonged exposure to hot sun on days when the temperature exceed 120 degrees. [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]

Interviews with military intelligence officers confirmed that “methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2004 Sources: Report of the ICRC on the treatment by Coalition Forces of POWs]


February 26, 2004

       Major General Antonio M. Taguba files a fifty-three-page classified report which finds that between October and December of 2003 (see October 2003-December 2003), members of the 372nd Military Police Company and US intelligence community engaged in numerous incidents of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” against prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. As evidence, he cites “detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” The photographs—which are later leaked to the press (see Mid-April 2004), causing an enormous international public outcry—are not included in the report. [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004; The New Yorker, 5/17/2004 Sources: US Army Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse] Taguba also takes issue with the November 5 (see November 5, 2003) Ryder report which concluded that the military police units had not intentionally used inappropriate confinement practices. “Contrary to the findings of MG Ryder's report, I find that personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to ‘set the conditions’ for MI interrogations.” Army intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors “actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” [The New Yorker, 5/10/2004 Sources: US Army Report on Iraqi Prisoner Abuse] He presents his report to his commander on March 3 (see March 3, 2004-March 9, 2004).
People and organizations involved: Antonio M. Taguba  Additional Info 

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