Earlier this week, the ACLU released a series of (long-FOIA'd) documents about detainee abuse it recently received from the Defense Department:
One of the documents released to the ACLU is a list of at least four prisoner deaths that were the subject of Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) investigations. The NCIS document contains new information about the deaths of some of these prisoners, including details about Farhad Mohamed, who had contusions under his eyes and the bottom of his chin, a swollen nose, cuts and large bumps on his forehead when he died in Mosul in 2004. The document also includes details about Naem Sadoon Hatab, a 52-year-old Iraqi man who was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment facility in Nasiriyah in June 2003; the shooting death of Hemdan El Gashame in Nasiriyah in March 2003; and the death of Manadel Jamadi during an interrogation after his head was beaten with a stove at Abu Ghraib in November 2003.
There has been ample commentary around the Web on the newly released papers. But we had a different set of questions: Have the deaths been investigated? And when appropriate the people behind them held accountable?
It turns out, accountability has been...limited. Only one case, the death of Naem Hatab, has resulted in a soldier being sent to a brig. Hatab was found dead June 6 2003, after began in detention for two days. According to the military report unearthed by the ACLU (PDF), an initial autopsy found that Hatab "suffered blunt trauma to the body, causing multiple contusions, broken ribs, and a facture to the right side of the hyoid bone, suggestive of strangulation."
Two low-ranking soldiers were charged and faced courts martial. The first soldier was given 60 days of hard labor. The court martial of the second GI ran into trouble after key evidence--namely Hatab's body parts--were mishandled. From a Human Rights First investigation (PDF):
Testimony at the courts martial indicated that a container of Hatab's internal organs was left exposed on an airport tarmac for hours; in the blistering Baghdad heat, the organs were destroyed.
Hatab's organs had been on their way to a second more thorough autopsy. Hatab's hyoid bone, the one that showed signs of strangulation, also went missing. The case against the second soldier was dismissed.