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Pentagon says 37 detainee deaths are under investigation

Cases involve Iraqis, Afghans

WASHINGTON -- The Army has undertaken criminal investigations into the deaths of at least 32 Iraqis and five Afghans held by US forces since August 2002, Pentagon officials said yesterday.

The deaths occurred in 33 separate cases, two of which involved more than one death. That is eight more cases than the Pentagon had publicly reported two weeks ago.

Nine are active cases, and eight of those are classified as homicides involving suspected assaults on detainees before or during interrogation sessions. Two have been resolved as homicide cases. Four are called justifiable homicides, and 15 have been classified as deaths by natural or undetermined cause, the Pentagon said.

Of the 33 cases, 30 involve detainees who died inside a US-run detention facility. In the three other cases, two Iraqis and one Afghan died while under US control outside a facility. That statistical breakdown was provided by a senior military official, who spoke on condition he not be identified.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said members of Congress were given the same information yesterday.

Also, for the first time, the Justice Department acknowledged yesterday that it has opened a criminal investigation into allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq.

Justice spokesman Mark Corallo said the probe involved an unidentified civilian contractor working for the Defense Department. It was unclear whether the case being investigated by the Justice Department involved a death.

The Justice Department can prosecute such contractors for crimes committed overseas, including torture, if they are not already under military jurisdiction.

"We remain committed to taking all appropriate action within our jurisdiction regarding allegations of mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners," Corallo said.

No further details were provided. The Justice Department has also received at least three referrals for possible prosecution from the CIA related to prisoner abuse allegations, but has not announced a full criminal investigation into those cases.

Among cases involving Iraqi and Afghan detainees, only one US soldier is known to have been disciplined. In that homicide case, in September 2003, a soldier shot and killed an Iraqi prisoner who was throwing rocks at him. The soldier was charged with using excessive force, reduced in rank, and dismissed from the military.

Another homicide case involved someone working for the CIA and has been turned over to the Justice Department.

The Pentagon official said that of the nine unresolved death investigations, six cases happened in Iraq, including two at Abu Ghraib prison, and three were in Afghanistan.

Of the two at Abu Ghraib, one is considered a homicide case, and the other is expected to be determined to have been by natural causes, the official said.

Whitman, the Pentagon spokesman, said that records are still to be examined and that the number of cases could rise.

In addition to the 30 cases involving deaths inside US-run detention facilities, there were three cases involving detainees who were outside.

One was a death involving a soldier who shot and killed an Afghan who had lunged toward a weapon, the senior military officer said.

Another was an Iraqi who drowned after he was forced off a bridge by a US soldier. In the third case, a US soldier shot and killed an Iraqi when he lunged at another US soldier, the official said.

In the four cases of justifiable homicide, there were a total of eight detainee deaths. Three of the four cases were at Abu Ghraib prison. In one of them, in November 2003, four Iraqis were killed.

An April 2004 case at Camp Bucca in southern Iraq resulted in two deaths.

There also were cases at Abu Ghraib in April 2003 and March 2004 that each involved one death.

The Pentagon also released death certificates yesterday for 20 Iraqi and three Afghan detainees. It was the first such public release by the Pentagon; the certificates showed that autopsies were done on most of the detainees.

The latest disclosures were made the same day that new photographs published in The Washington Post depicted a US soldier apparently preparing to strike a shackled detainee, a hooded inmate collapsed with his wrists handcuffed to a railing, and a baton-wielding soldier appearing to order a naked detainee covered in a brown substance to walk a straight line with his ankles shackled.

Some prisoners at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were forced to denounce Islam and were ridden like animals, fondled by female soldiers, force-fed pork or liquor (Muslims are forbidden from consuming either), and required to retrieve their food from toilets, the Post said in an accompanying story it said came from secret prisoner testimony.

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