Bagram Revisited

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In March, Mother Jones published Emily Bazelon’s article “From Bagram to Abu Ghraib”, which laid out how Bagram, a military base in Afghanistan where prisoners are screened for possible shipment to Guantanamo, was yet another piece of the detainee abuse puzzle. From Guantanamo, to Bagram, to Abu Ghraib, Bazelon showed how those responsible for pushing the limits of already hazy interrogation rules were circulated from one facility to another despite detainee deaths occurring under their command.

One of the most egregious examples of detainee abuse that Bazelon focused on was the case of two prisoners—Dilawar and Habibullah—who were brutally tortured to death. Today, the New York Times released more details on the incident from a 2,000 page confidential Army criminal investigation report on the two deaths. A roundup of some notable findings that reinforce what we already knew:

Even though military investigators learned soon after Mr. Dilawar’s death that he had been abused by at least two interrogators, the Army’s criminal inquiry moved slowly. Meanwhile, many of the Bagram interrogators, led by the same operations officer, Capt. Carolyn A. Wood, were redeployed to Iraq and…took charge of interrogations at the Abu Ghraib prison.

This makes it immediately clear that higher-ups were well aware that the actions of the interrogators, military police, and guards, were resulting in deaths. There was no mistaking the detainees died of natural causes. And yet, the Army apparently sanctioned this behavior by sending those responsible on to another detainee facility. Also note:

Mr. Habibullah’s autopsy…showed bruises or abrasions on his chest, arms and head. There were deep contusions on his calves, knees and thighs. His left calf was marked by what appeared to have been the sole of a boot….one of the coroners later translated the assessment…saying the tissue in the young man’s legs ‘had basically been pulpified.’ ‘I’ve seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus.’

The Army criminal investigation concluded that “there was probably cause to charge 27 officers and enlisted personnel with criminal offenses.” But only seven soldiers have been charged thus far. The investigation doesn’t even seem to have probed very deep into the deaths. Note that one of the intelligence specialists who had been interrogating Dilawar—and who had complained about the gratuitous abusive treatment the detainee was receiving—was never contacted. According to Staff Sgt. W. Christopher Yonushonis, who was quoted in the piece, “I expected to be contacted at some point by investigators in this case. I was living a few doors down from the interrogation room, and I had been one of the last to see this detainee alive.” Oh, and Yonushonis also added one other detail: “most of us were convinced that the detainee was innocent.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post implied that Yonushonis had spoken to the Times, when in fact the paper merely quoted statements he had made to the Army.

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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