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US probed a quarter of deaths in custody

WASHINGTON -- At least 108 people have died in US custody in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and roughly a quarter of the cases have been investigated as possible US abuse, according to government data provided to the Associated Press.

The figure, far higher than any previously disclosed, includes cases investigated by the Army, Navy, CIA, and Justice Department. Some 65,000 prisoners have been taken during the US-led wars, most later freed.

The Pentagon has never provided comprehensive information on how many prisoners taken during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have died. The figure of 108, based on information supplied by Army, Navy, and other government officials, includes deaths attributed to natural causes.

To human rights groups, the deaths form a clear pattern.

''Despite the military's own reports of deaths and abuses of detainees in US custody, it is astonishing that our government can still pretend that what is happening is the work of a few rogue soldiers," said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. ''No one at the highest levels of our government has yet been held accountable for the torture and abuse, and that is unacceptable."

To the Pentagon, each death is a distinct case, meriting an investigation but not attributable to any single faulty military policy. Pentagon officials point to military investigations that have found that no policy condoned abuse.

Lieutenant Colonel John Skinner, a Defense Department spokesman, said the military has taken steps to reduce the chance of violent uprisings at its prisons and the use of excessive force by soldiers, and also has improved healthcare available to prisoners.

Some death investigations have resulted in courts-martial and convictions, others in reprimands. Many are still open.

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