Newly Released Army Documents Detail Ongoing Abuse of Detainees by U.S. Forces

March 4, 2005 12:00 am

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“Ramadi Madness” DVD of Abuses Was Destroyed by Soldiers Under Investigation

NEW YORK – The latest round of investigative files released to the American Civil Liberties Union document an ongoing pattern of widespread abuses of detainees by U.S. military forces in Iraq, the ACLU said today.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero said that the documents provide further evidence — if any were required — of the need for an independent special counsel and Congressional hearings to investigate the abuses. “Pieces of the puzzle are still missing,” Romero said. “An outside special counsel is the only way to ensure that all civilians who violated, or conspired to violate, the laws are held responsible for their crimes.”

In an unusual move, the Army released approximately 1,200 pages of documents to a select group of reporters late yesterday and today, along with a press statement and fact sheet purporting to explain the disposition of the incidents. Until recently, it has not been the Army’s practice to release documents directly to the media.

The ACLU said it will post the new documents on its website on Monday, along with the more than 23,000 pages it has received to date, at www.aclu.org/torturefoia. The ACLU continues to fight in court for the release of additional documents being withheld by the government.

The documents were released in response to a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

The approximately 15 files released, totaling some 1,200 pages, describe an ongoing pattern of abusive conduct and brutal treatment by interrogators, as well as the failure of military officials to investigate incidents.

“These files provide further evidence that abuse of detainees was widespread in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. “In some small number of cases low-ranking soldiers have been punished. But in light of the hundreds of abuses that we now know to have taken place, it is increasingly difficult to understand why no senior official, civilian or military, has been held accountable.”

Some of the files that raise questions include:

  • A description of a DVD called “Ramadi Madness” that included scenes of soldiers kicking a flexicuffed prisoner who reportedly later died; using a dead prisoner’s body to “wave hello”; and joyriding in a prisoner’s van while yelling profanities at Iraqi civilians. Copies of the DVD were destroyed in January 2004 by a sergeant after he learned the incident was under investigation. No soldier was charged in relation to the making of the DVD or the incidents depicted in it.
  • A report on complaints by a civilian interrogator who described “harsh interrogations and inhumane conduct” by some interrogators and guards during April and May of 2004. He said he was reporting the conduct even though “every harsh interrogation were (sic) approved” by Task Force 6-26 personnel. The interrogator said he was transferred three weeks after he arrived because “I refused to conduct my interrogations inhumanely.”
  • A report on an investigation initiated after Playboy Magazine published an article in May 2004 titled “Death and Dishonor,” alleging that soldiers of the 1/15th Infantry Battalion, 3d Brigade, 3d Infantry Division (Ft. Benning, GA), committed numerous war crimes. The article reported that soldiers assigned to the Brigade raped Iraqi women, shot an unarmed Iraqi and stuck their fingers into a prisoner’s wounds. The investigation concluded that “there was no credible information” to substantiate the allegations and was closed in late July 2004.

On Tuesday, the ACLU and Human Rights First filed a lawsuit charging Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with direct responsibility for the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody. The action was the first federal court lawsuit to name a top U.S. official in the ongoing torture scandal in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many of the charges in the lawsuit derived from information obtained through the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Details about the Rumsfeld lawsuit are online at www.aclu.org/rumsfeld.

In addition to filing the lawsuit, the ACLU is urging Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate high-level violations of the War Crimes Act and other federal laws in connection with the reports of abuses.

The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh, Judy Rabinovitz and Omar Jadwat of the ACLU; Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

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