WASHINGTON -- The Army has concluded that 27 of the detainees who died in US custody in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002 were the victims of homicide or suspected homicide, military officials said in a report released yesterday.
The number is higher than Pentagon officials have previously acknowledged, and it indicates that criminal acts caused a significant portion of the dozens of prisoner deaths that occurred in US custody.
Thus far, the Army has found sufficient evidence to support charges against 21 soldiers in 11 cases on offenses that include murder, negligent homicide, and assault, according to the report released yesterday by the Army Criminal Investigation Command.
The other completed investigations involve personnel from the Navy, other government agencies, and foreign armies, and the cases have been turned over to them for possible action.
Overruling recommendations by its own investigators, the Army has decided not to prosecute 17 soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, The New York Times reported today.
Army investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in those cases, the newspaper said. While none will face any prosecution, one received a letter of reprimand and another was discharged after the investigations.
Most of the 27 cases cited in the Criminal Investigation Command report had come to light previously.
Three of the deaths cited in the documents occurred after the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq revealed serious abuses in the military detention system and prompted several high-level investigations into the US military's prison system worldwide.
The 27 confirmed or suspected homicides occurred during 24 separate cases -- 17 of them in Iraq and seven in Afghanistan. The Criminal Investigation Command has determined that there were homicides in 16 of the cases and is continuing to investigate the other eight.
''We are equally determined to get to the truth, wherever the evidence may lead us and regardless of how long it takes," said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the Army.
The homicides documented in the report included the January 2003 shooting of an Afghan detainee by a special forces soldier after he attempted to stand up while he was being questioned; the shooting by a soldier of an Iraqi prisoner who approached the perimeter wire of a forward operations base detention camp in September 2003; and the alleged execution of a wounded prisoner by an Army sergeant after a firefight near Mosul, Iraq, in November.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit over the detainee abuse that forced the Pentagon to release thousands of pages of documents.
The ACLU said in a news release yesterday that the Pentagon was trying to bury the report by releasing it on the day before a holiday weekend.