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 - Prisoner Was Beaten and Left to Die - Iraq

    Prisoner Was Beaten and Left to Die

    Report Cites Marines in Iraqi's Death at a Camp.

    A military investigator has concluded that low-ranking Marines repeatedly struck two defenseless Iraqis at a makeshift prison camp last June, and one of the detainees died after he was left disabled and naked under a scorching sun.

    In two reports obtained by The Times, Marine Col. William V. Gallo also criticized an investigation into the death, saying the deceased Iraqi's bodily fluids were mishandled by investigators and were destroyed on the way to a laboratory for analysis.

    Gallo's reports and recommendations, which have not been made public, were the basis for an order last month by Maj. Gen. William G. Bowdon III, the commanding officer at Camp Pendleton, that two Marines face courts-martial.

    Gallo said it remained uncertain what role the assaults by Marines played in the death of Nagem Sadoon Hatab, a detainee reputed to have ties to Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. However, Gallo made it clear that, in general, abuses at Camp Whitehorse near Nasiriya were not as severe as incidents at Abu Ghraib, the Army-controlled prison near Baghdad.

    But there were similarities. In both cases the demanding task of running the detention camp in southern Iraq was assigned to a reserve unit whose members were not trained in prison management and had received minimal instruction in laws governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

    Although Gallo found no evidence of the type of abuse or sexual humiliation depicted in photographs from Abu Ghraib, he did report that testimony showed that the Marine guards at Camp Whitehorse used a stressing technique known as 50/10, in which detainees were required to stand for 50 minutes out of every hour. The tactic was used until the arrival of trained interrogators — members of a "Human Intelligence Exploitation Team" — sometimes as long as eight hours later.

    Several guards testified at hearings late last year and early this year that they were directed by the interrogators to use the technique "as a means to soften up a detainee before the initial interview occurred," Gallo wrote. Two military intelligence interrogators denied this in testimony at the same hearings, the military equivalent of a preliminary hearing in a criminal case. But Gallo concluded in his reports that someone from the intelligence unit "must have directed or strongly suggested" that guards use the tactic.

    Gallo said he did not find that the 50/10 process violated military prohibitions against forcing detainees to stand, sit or kneel in abnormal positions for prolonged periods.

    "While undoubtedly uncomfortable, it is difficult to characterize the 50/10 as inhumane or torturous even when factoring in the Iraqi heat or the occasional force that was used by the guards to get some [detainees] to stand as ordered," he wrote. "Certainly, the fact that the prisoners were fed and given water during the entire process seriously weakens any argument that the guards were intentionally inflicting physical or mental stress … in an inhumane way."

    Last October, eight Marines were charged by military authorities in the alleged mistreatment of detainees at Camp Whitehorse. At the time, two of the Marines were charged with negligent homicide in connection with the June 6 death of Hatab.

    After the hearings and the compilation of Gallo's reports, which were based on testimony and other evidence, charges were dismissed against five of the Marines. Two others were ordered to face a general court-martial for conduct related to Hatab's treatment. Negligent homicide charges were dropped.

    The eighth Marine, Lance Cpl. William S. Roy, received administrative punishment after being granted immunity for testimony against his colleagues.

    Lawyers for the Marines facing courts-martial declined to allow their clients to be interviewed.

    Conditions at the prison camp — a converted Iraqi military barracks that held a dozen to three dozen detainees at a time — were primitive, both for the detainees and the Marines. The heat, at the beginning of summer, ranged from 90 degrees at night to 120 during the day.

    Beginning in April 2003, 18 Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit based in Garden City, N.Y., worked in shifts to guard the detainees in holding pens until they were released or transported to larger prisons.

    Hatab, 52, arrived at the camp on June 3, seemingly healthy and notably combative, according to Gallo's reports. It is not clear why he was detained, but investigative reports have suggested that the Americans believed he might have been involved in the March 23, 2003, ambush of the 507th Maintenance Company that killed 11 soldiers and led to the capture of Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

    On his second day of detention, Roy kicked Hatab in an effort to get him to stand up, according to Gallo's summary of Roy's testimony. He was joined, according to Roy's testimony, by Sgt. Gary P. Pittman, 40, who works in his civilian life as a federal prison guard in New York.

    "Mr. Hatab was staggering and moaning and, at one point, got tangled in the concertina wire, requiring Sgt. Pittman and LCpl Roy to extract him," Gallo wrote. "Mr. Hatab was hooded and cuffed behind the back. Sgt. Pittman then gave Mr. Hatab a backhand to the chest causing him to stumble back. Mr. Hatab muttered 'why, why, why … my children.' Sgt. Pittman, in response, stated 'what about the children of the soldiers in the 507 ambush?' Then LCpl Roy saw Sgt. Pittman land a karate kick to Mr. Hatab's chest."

    Gallo concluded that Pittman's assault was illegal: "There was no excuse or legal justification for Sgt. Pittman's conduct — absolutely none," he wrote. Pittman now faces court-martial proceedings.

    The next day, on June 5, guards found that Hatab was lethargic, and sometimes would not move on command, Gallo reported. He was not eating and was drinking very little; some witnesses testified that they thought he was having trouble breathing.

    Hatab had diarrhea, and feces covered most of his body and clothing. Twice, he seemed to deliberately throw himself into concertina wire. The stench in the holding cell had become overwhelming. At that point, Maj. Clark A. Paulus, 35, an active-duty Marine from Pennsylvania who had been assigned to run the prison a week earlier, ordered that Hatab be removed from the pen and stripped of his soiled clothing.

    That order was carried out late in the afternoon by Lance Cpl. Christian Hernandez, a Delta Air Lines employee from New York. Because of Hatab's size, and the sweat and feces on his body, Hernandez had trouble moving the detainee. Paulus, who apparently believed that Hatab was simply being recalcitrant, told Hernandez to "drag him by the neck," Gallo wrote.

    Witnesses testified at the hearings that Hernandez carefully placed one hand under Hatab's head, cupped the other around his chin and "painstakingly dragged Mr. Hatab approximately 20 to 30 feet to the outside holding pens and laid him down," according to Gallo. A medical corpsman who was asked to examine the naked Hatab concluded he either had had a mild heart attack or was faking distress.

    "Despite the opinion," Gallo wrote, "Maj. Paulus allowed Mr. Hatab to remain lying naked outside in the sun and heat for the rest of the day and into the night. Shortly after midnight, Mr. Hatab was found dead."

    Paulus' refusal to take Hatab's medical condition seriously is the basis for charges of dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and assault. Gallo had classified the dereliction as negligent rather than willful, and recommended nonjudicial punishment.

    Maj. Gen. Bowdon disagreed. Though he dropped the original charge of negligent homicide, he ordered that Paulus be court-martialed. Paulus' trial is scheduled for Sept. 9. If convicted, he could face 5 1/2 years in prison and dismissal from the Marine Corps.

    Hernandez was originally charged with assault, negligent homicide and other offenses, but Bowdon dismissed all counts against him.

    An autopsy by an Army pathologist revealed that Hatab had seven broken or cracked ribs, a fractured hyoid bone in his throat, and a number of bruises on his body, according to Gallo's report.

    The Army pathologist, Lt. Col. Kathleen M. Ingwersen, who was based at Landstuhl, Germany, concluded that Hatab died of strangulation, caused by the fractured hyoid bone and resultant swelling of the windpipe, which blocked oxygen flow to the lungs.

    During the hearings, however, a second military physician and a defense pathologist both said it was just as likely that Hatab had died of an asthma attack. Ingwersen acknowledged that Hernandez's dragging of Hatab, if conducted in the manner that all witnesses described, would not have produced the force and pressure needed to fracture the hyoid bone.

    Gallo concluded that the abuse by Roy and Pittman might have caused the bone to break.

    Calling the evidence "unconvincing at best," Gallo cast serious doubt on Ingwersen's methods and findings. Among other problems, he wrote, "no laboratory tests on Mr. Hatab's bodily fluids could be performed because the ice chest in which they were being stored for transit back to Germany was left on the tarmac in the hot Iraqi sun and literally exploded from the expanding gases inside."

    Gallo found that Pittman intentionally struck Hatab and another detainee, known as Sheik Rashaed, "for no reason." Roy testified that he saw Pittman repeatedly strike Rashaed in an unprovoked attack on June 5. Other Marines, according to Gallo, said in sworn statements that they saw Pittman treating detainees roughly. Sometimes, they said, he yanked them out of Humvees while they were hooded and cuffed, causing them to fall several feet to the ground.

    Pittman, a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, is scheduled for trial on Aug. 9 on charges of dereliction of duty and assault. He could receive three years in prison and a discharge for bad conduct.

    Overall, Gallo found no evidence of serious mistreatment of prisoners during Paulus' tenure, or that of his predecessor, Maj. William E. Vickers.

    "By all accounts, the detention facility both before and during Maj. Paulus' tenure was run professionally and the [detainees] were well treated," Gallo wrote.

    Paulus' lawyer, Keith T. Higgins, described his client as "a very by-the-book Marine who wouldn't tolerate that kind of stuff."

    Gallo noted that Paulus had received no training in the handling of prisoners, the management of a detention center or the laws of war.

    "Under the circumstances, I believe Maj. Paulus did what he could," he wrote.

    But on occasion, Gallo concluded, guards hit detainees with an open hand or fist to the shoulders, body or legs in order to obtain compliance to orders. At other times, physical force was used in self-defense, as when one detainee tried to grab a Marine's knife. On another occasion, guards found that a detainee was concealing a razor blade in his mouth.

    "When physical force was used, it was never excessive and always reasonable under the circumstances, at least in the opinions of the witnesses who testified," Gallo wrote.

    Capt. W. Anders Folk, a military lawyer assigned to defend Pittman, described the situations at Camp Whitehorse and Abu Ghraib as "apples and oranges."

    "At Camp Whitehorse, that culture of violence and degradation just didn't exist," he said. "This was a bunch of Marines scrambling to do the very best they could in a situation that they hadn't received any specific training for and that was a very fluid, dynamic environment. I'm sure these guys were frustrated and stressed out and ready to go home."

    source: LA Times - 22 May, 2004

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    “Never think of those slain in the way of God to be dead; rather they are alive and are provided in the Presence of their Lord.”

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