Two-thirds of US detainee killings 'go unpunished'

In only 12 of 34 cases has anyone been punished for the confirmed or suspected killings of US-held detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan, a US human rights group reported today.

The steepest sentence for any American soldier linked to a torture-related death has been five months in jail, said Human Rights First.

Beyond those cases, in almost half of 98 known detainee deaths since 2002 the cause was either never announced or reported as undetermined, the New York-based group said.

“In dozens of cases documented, grossly inadequate reporting, investigation, and follow-through have left no one at all responsible for homicides and other unexplained deaths,” it said in the 128-page report, based on military court records, news reports and other documents.

The Pentagon maintains it conscientiously investigates detainee abuses, including deaths.

“Some 250 people have been punished in one way or another,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said last month of such abuse cases.

When asked for a status report on investigations and prosecutions in individual cases of detainee abuse, the Pentagon said it could not offer a comprehensive compilation because the information was too scattered.

Pentagon-level Army lawyers do not “have access to the information because other Army commands have the documents,” spokesman Maj. Wayne Marotto said at the Pentagon.

Human Rights First, formerly known as the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, is based in New York and Washington and according to its mission statement works “to create a secure and humane world advancing justice, human dignity, and respect for the rule of law”.

In Baghdad, a victim’s son dismissed the seriousness of the US pursuit of those responsible.

“Justice wasn’t done in our father’s case by the U.S. forces, because if he was a criminal they should have interrogated him fairly and not tortured him barbarically and then killed him,” Qusay Mowhoush said.

His father, Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, suspected of supporting the anti-US insurgency, died in 2003 when a US Army interrogator covered the badly beaten Iraqi in a sleeping bag, sat on his chest and put his hand over the general’s mouth. Mowhoush had been detained 10 days earlier when he appeared at a US base to seek the release of his four sons.

The interrogator, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, originally charged with murder, was convicted of negligent homicide at a US military trial last month and was ordered reprimanded, without jail time. His defence lawyer said the jury apparently accepted his argument that Welshofer did what he thought right without clear guidance from commanders.

Mowhoush’s son blamed those higher-up, saying, “I think they (low-ranking soldiers) have direct and clear orders from the American administration to deal with prisoners that way” – something the Bush administration denies.

In another case, the death of the badly abused detainee Manadel al-Jamadi, the only US serviceman court-martialed was acquitted. It was Jamadi’s body that appeared in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison photos of 2004, with US guards smiling and giving thumbs up over the corpse.

With extensive documentation, Human Rights First reported:

:: Of 34 confirmed or suspected homicide cases it identified in Iraq and Afghanistan, military investigators recommended criminal charges in fewer than two-thirds, and charges were brought in only 14. In part this resulted from individual commanders’ decisions not to court-martial members of their own commands, the advocacy group said;

:: Only 12 detainee deaths have resulted in any punishment for individuals;

:: Only four of eight cases of detainees deemed tortured to death have resulted in punishment. The longest sentence, five months, was imposed on an Army sergeant convicted in the December 2002 death of Dilawar, an Afghan detainee so badly and repeatedly beaten that an autopsy found his leg muscles had crumbled;

The overall record shows “a pattern of impunity for the worst violations, with punishment for bad behaviour too little and too late,” Human Rights First concluded.

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