Eric Schmitt | Washington | Sept 23
NYT – Three former members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division say soldiers in their battalion in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.
The new allegations, the first involving members of the elite 82nd Airborne, are contained in a report by Human Rights Watch. The 30-page report does not identify the troops, but one is Capt. Ian Fishback, who has presented some of his allegations in letters this month to top aides of two senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona. Captain Fishback approached the Senators’ offices only after he tried to report the allegations to his superiors for 17 months, the aides said. The aides also said they found the captain’s accusations credible enough to warrant investigation.
An Army spokesman, Paul Boyce, said Friday that Captain Fishback’s allegations first came to the Army’s attention earlier this month, and that the Army had opened a criminal investigation into the matter, focusing on the division’s First Brigade, 504th Parachute Infantry. The Army has begun speaking with Captain Fishback, and is seeking the names of the two other soldiers.
In separate statements to the human rights organization, Captain Fishback and two sergeants described systematic abuses of Iraqi prisoners, including beatings, exposure to extremes of hot and cold, stacking in human pyramids and sleep deprivation at Camp Mercury, a forward operating base near Falluja. Falluja was the site of the major uprising against the American-led occupation in April 2004. The report describes the soldiers’ positions in the unit, but not their names.
The abuses reportedly took place between September 2003 and April 2004, before and during the investigations into the notorious misconduct at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. Senior Pentagon officials initially sought to characterize the scandal there as the work of a rogue group of military police soldiers on the prison’s night shift. Since then, the Army has opened more than 400 inquiries into detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, and punished 230 enlisted soldiers and officers.