Mon, Mar 28, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Army lets 17 soldiers off the hook for prisoner deaths

AP , WASHINGTON

Army officials have decided not to prosecute 17 soldiers involved in the deaths of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, a military report says.

Military investigators recommended courts-martial for the soldiers in the cases of three prisoner deaths for charges ranging from making false statements to murder. Officers rejected those recommendations, ruling that the soldiers lawfully used force or didn't understand the rules for using force, or that there was not enough evidence to prosecute.

Eleven US Army soldiers are facing murder or other charges involving the deaths of detainees in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Army Criminal Investigation Command released a report Friday detailing the cases of 27 detainees killed in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan between August 2002 and November last year.

Twenty-four cases encompassed the 27 deaths; 16 investigations have been closed and eight remain open, according to the Army report released Friday. Five cases were referred to other agencies, including deaths involving Navy and Marine troops and CIA operatives.

"We take each and every death very seriously and are committed and sworn to investigating each case with the utmost professionalism and thoroughness," said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Criminal Investigation Command.

Army investigators turn over their recommendations to commanders of the soldiers involved when they finish their investigations. Those commanders can decide whether to bring criminal charges against the accused soldiers.

In one case, commanders decided not to file recommended criminal charges against 11 soldiers involved in the death of a former Iraqi Army lieutenant colonel in January last year. An autopsy indicated the man died from blunt force injuries and asphyxia.

Investigators determined there was enough evidence for negligent homicide charges against two soldiers and for various lesser charges, ranging from making false statements to assault, against nine others.

The accused soldiers' commander, however, decided that the soldiers were justified in using force against the Iraqi because he was being aggressive and misbehaving. The case is closed.

In another case, Army Special Forces commanders decided against filing charges against members of a unit which shot and killed detainee Mohamed Sayari. The soldiers said Sayari was killed after he lunged for a soldier's gun. Investigators initially suspected the troops killed Sayari because they thought he had revealed US troop movements to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The third case involved a soldier who killed an Iraqi detainee in September 2003. That soldier's commander decided the soldier was not well informed about the rules for using force against prisoners.

The decision not to prosecute the 17 soldiers was first reported by the New York Times.

One case where soldiers are facing courts-martial involves the death of a former Iraqi Army major general who was stuffed headfirst into a sleeping bag and suffocated.

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