The documents, released yesterday, portray a series of abuse cases stretching beyond the notorious Abu Ghraib prison where photos surfaced this year of US troops forcing prisoners - often naked - to pose in humiliating positions.
The files document a crush of abuse allegations, most from the early months of the US occupation of Iraq, that have swamped investigators. The approximately 10,000 files include investigation reports from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and witness interviews.
All names have been blacked out in the documents, which were released after a federal court ordered the US government to comply with a Freedom of Information Act petition filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Centre for Constitutional Rights and other organisations.
“This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.
The Pentagon says cases of abuse are taken seriously and investigated. “The fact that these cases have been investigated underscores the point that we’ve been making, which is when we have credible allegations of abuse we take them seriously and investigate them,” said Major Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman.
Some of the documents include the alleged executions of Iraqis. The Navy found the allegations to be “unsubstantiated” and closed the investigation. It remains unclear whether any other military branches are investigating.
In one of the reports, a Marine said he and two others were ordered to kill three Iraqis. “The executions allegedly took place in early April 2003 while the unit was temporarily based at an abandoned Iraqi pharmaceutical factory south of Baghdad,” according to the NCIS document, dated June 26, 2003.
The Marine said he was threatened with death if he did not carry out the order. The bodies of the dead Iraqis were allegedly dumped in a hole.
After the incident was reported, the Marines were interviewed.
One, who was interviewed and advised of his rights, retracted his previous statements, saying the executions never took place and that he “made up the story to tell his friends... unlike his colleagues, he didn’t have good stories to tell about his deployment to Iraq”, the report said, which added that the Marine said he was drunk and made up the story while at a party.
The suspect, whose name, along with others allegedly involved, was blacked out, was given a polygraph test, which indicated he “was being truthful in his responses.”
Troops have said many of them are trained in ways to trick polygraph examiners. It was unclear whether the Marine was disciplined for the alleged fabrication.