US Army Report Details Afghan Prisoner Abuse

More reports of soldier abuse of prisoners is out today, and the source isn’t Newsweek but the U.S. Army.

US Army Report Details Afghan Prisoner Abuse (VOA News)

A U.S. newspaper report says a confidential U.S. Army document details widespread abuse of Afghan detainees by American soldiers. The New York Times says the abuse, along with details of the deaths of two detainees at the Bagram detention center in Afghanistan in late 2002, emerged from a file of the Army’s criminal investigation into the deaths. The Times report published Friday, says the nearly 2,000-page file obtained by the newspaper depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The newspaper cites testimony from soldiers who say some harsh treatment was for interrogation or punishment, but other torment was driven by boredom or cruelty.

In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of 2 Afghan Inmates’ Deaths (NYT)

Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him. The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days. Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar’s face. “Come on, drink!” the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. “Drink!”

At the interrogators’ behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling. “Leave him up,” one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.

Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.

The story of Mr. Dilawar’s brutal death at the Bagram Collection Point – and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 – emerge from a nearly 2,000-page confidential file of the Army’s criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both. In sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.

The Times obtained a copy of the file from a person involved in the investigation who was critical of the methods used at Bagram and the military’s response to the deaths.

The CNN account differs at least on the last part:

Army: Soldiers did mock executions (CNN)

The Army released the documents this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU. The same request resulted in the release of several thousand pages of similar documents earlier this year. “The Army does not tolerate detainee abuse and will continue to aggressively investigate all allegations of abuse and hold individuals accountable when appropriate,” an Army spokesman said.

At least three soldiers were investigated and reprimanded for handling detainees outside of authorized military parameters, according to the documents.

Obviously, this is shameful conduct that undermines the mission. The only good news here is that the Army geniunely understands that is seems commited to punishing the perpetrators and figuring out how to revamp training and supervisory procedures to root out those unfit to serve.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    You left out the part in the article that said this group of interrogators were later sent to Abu Ghraib to set up shop there after OIF. Do you see the connection? Is anyone asking where was the adult supvervision? These people obviously had no concept of what the Geneva Convention is. For military members to do this is very shameful.

  2. James Joyner says:

    DCL: Agreed. Abu Ghraib was a different subculture, at least, involving reserve MPs who were prison guards in the civilian world. I don’t know the background of the group in question here.

  3. LJD says:

    I didn’t see the part about being sent to Abu Ghraib after, just the folowing regarding the “Monster”: “At Abu Ghraib, he was also one of three members of the 519th who were fined and demoted for forcing an Iraqi woman to strip during questioning, another interrogator said.

    While the actions of the soldiers are reprehensible,keep in mind that this is a New York Times article, which clear in the language used. The weakened “detainee” could hardly take a drink of water as he was abused by the weight-lifting troops with the confederate flag. Right.

    I also see evidence of some troops who are in deep shit, scrambling to cover their sadistic asses: “The platoon had the standard interrogations guide, Army Field Manual 34-52, and an order from the secretary of defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to treat prisoners “humanely,” and when possible, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. But with President Bush’s final determination in February 2002 that the Conventions did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda and that Taliban fighters would not be accorded the rights of prisoners of war, the interrogators believed they “could deviate slightly from the rules,” said one of the Utah reservists, Sgt. James A. Leahy.”

    While NYT is more than happy to attempt the connection to the administration’s “policy”, nowhere do I see an authorization to beat to death any prisoners. Sleep deprivation, uncomfortable positioning, mind games: these are nothing more than that experienced by thousands of fraternity and sorority pledges every year.

    Another black eye because of some under-supervised and overly frustrated troops, with a total lack of values or concept of their duty.

  4. Lt bell says:

    “bring it on”
    “lets roll”
    “with us or against us”
    WE will make you free
    small wonder that the troops on the ground think
    that they are supposed to be the “cowboy” cops-
    this is not a war it is an occupation -put into
    play by a bunch of murdering theives in the white house

  5. Anderson says:

    LJD’s logic would support David Irving’s argument that Hitler didn’t order the Holocaust, because no one’s ever found a signed order for it.

    When you find yourself following the same thought patterns as Nazi sympathizers, it’s time to stop & take a look at yourself. Good lord, what *would* convince y’all that the White House’s express exclusion of Taliban & Qaeda from Geneva led to some of these consequences?

    Not that the comment in the story isn’t self-serving & thus suspect. But at the same time, it’s quite plausible and bears further investigation.

    Oh, and I’m less sanguine than James about the Army’s “genuine understanding,” based on the story:

    Military spokesmen maintained that both men had died of natural causes, even after military coroners had ruled the deaths homicides. Two months after those autopsies, the American commander in Afghanistan, then-Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, said he had no indication that abuse by soldiers had contributed to the two deaths. The methods used at Bagram, he said, were “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”

    Not reassuring at all.

  6. LJD says:

    My comments are a far, far cry from “following the same thought pattern as nazi sympathizers.

    Typical liberal mudsling, barring any relevant evidence, turn to the Hitler analogy.

    One major difference, our troops are trained not to follow unlawful orders. Further, with all of the baseless accusations out there, wingnuts have still failed to produce any credible evidence that troops are being directed to kill “detainees”. Nice try though. You must love the NYT.

  7. Anderson says:

    While NYT is more than happy to attempt the connection to the administration’s “policy”, nowhere do I see an authorization to beat to death any prisoners.

    Oh, so there’s no official “authorization,” hence there’s no culpability by Bush’s White House, just because they announced that the Geneva Conventions were being thrown out the window.

    If the analogy fits, wear it.

  8. LJD says:

    O.K. Mr. Conspiracy Theory…
    I have to clue you in, since I’m in the Armed forces. Our guys don’t go around torturing people because GW or any one else in the administration told them to. Our service men and women are of a much higher caliber.
    What you are seeing is a few sick and twisted individuals, abusing their authority, getting caught, and being prosecuted under UCMJ.

    The flip side is the argument over what constitutes “torture”. Keeping a terrorist awake, playing loud music, leading them to conclusions for the prupose of extracting information, are all o.k. by me if it saves American lives.

    That’s the difference between you and me. I want to hunt down the violent enemy, who does not follow the Geneva convention, who does not punish their war criminals, who indiscriminately kills innocent people. You want to punish the good guys, even those who are guilty of nothing more than putting on a uniform.

  9. Anderson says:

    Where did I say anything about punishing the good guys? I would like the torturers described in the Times story to be taken out & shot, if the described facts are true, and I would think every American in uniform would approve. These people have degraded not only themselves but the reputation of the Armed Forces.

    But I think it’s moonshine to pretend that a decision by the Commander in Chief that Geneva protections don’t apply to certain people, isn’t an implicit declaration that they can be treated badly. Military lawyers, etc. could argue differently, but to enlisted personnel, the distinction hardly seems very clear.

    Whether the enemy follows Geneva or not is irrelevant; the enemy sucks; we knew that. The enemy also crashes jetliners full of civilians into targets. Can we do that? Hey, they started it.

    I’m not in the Armed Forces. My dad served in Korea and Vietnam, flying helicopters in the latter, and earning several medals (including the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross), which I learned last year are held in contempt by today’s Republican Party. And my dad is of no two minds about soldiers who torture prisoners, or about politicians who argue that torture is O.K.

  10. DC Loser says:

    As an officer, I’m still trying to figure out where were the officers commanding or overseeing these guys? I’m sorry, the buck has to stop somewhere and someone needs to get slapped bigtime. No excuses. That’s exactly the difference between us and the bad guys.

  11. Anderson says:

    I’m sorry, the buck has to stop somewhere and someone needs to get slapped bigtime. No excuses. That’s exactly the difference between us and the bad guys.

    Or it used to be.

  12. wavemaker says:

    Light Bell is just cracking me up!

  13. Munir Umrani says:

    James, does the background of the torturers and murderers exposed by the U.S. military at Bagram matter? They are our troops.

    And like the troops accused of atrocities at Abu Ghraib, they dispelled the notion that we Americans don’t torture. All governments torture. We are no different than anyone else and should stop pretending that we are. What makes it appear that we are is that the world rarely sees what we do. But with instant cameras and the Internet, we are no longer able to hide our crimes.

  14. Atm says:

    No all it means is that there a certain fraction of sadists in American society who also enter the military. We already knew these people exists. Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer, and so forth. The difference is that we expect that these people ought not behave in that manner and that they should be prosecuted if they do so.

    which I learned last year are held in contempt by today’s Republican Party

    No we don’t. We are simply suspicious and contemptous of those who seem to have gamed the system to gain their medals, because they cheapen the sacrifices of those who actually deserve all of their medals.