US investigation finds 28 soldiers guilty over deaths of two Taliban suspects in Afghanistan

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The Independent Online

A US military criminal investigation has found 28 American soldiers culpable in the deaths of two Taliban suspects at an interrogation centre in Afghanistan.

A US military criminal investigation has found 28 American soldiers culpable in the deaths of two Taliban suspects at an interrogation centre in Afghanistan.

The case has echoes of the later Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. Personnel from one of the units involved were based first at Bagram air base, near Kabul,and were later sent to the now-infamous Iraqi jail.

A Pentagon report has found that army regulars and reservists may have been guilty of involuntary manslaughter, maiming, battery, maltreatment and conspiracy in the two deaths which happened days apart in December 2002, well before the Iraq abuse. The military has ruled they were homicides.

Two men were found dead in interrogation cells at Bagram, the US military's Afghan base, after being beaten on the legs. One, the 30-year-old brother of a Taliban commander, died as a result of blood clots in the legs and and the other, a 22-year-old taxi driver detained after a rocket attack on US troops, suffered a heart attack after an apparent beating exacerbated an existing coronary condition.

Investigators found evidence that numerous soldiers had beaten the two Afghans, using their knees to hit the mens' legs apparently because marks would not then be obvious. Reports said both men had apparently been chained to the ceiling, one by the waist, one by the knees.

US army commanders will now decide whether to court-martial 27 unnamed soldiers.

The only one named so far is Sergeant James Bolan, a reservist who was serving as a guard at Bagram, who is charged with dereliction of duty and assault. Many alleged Taliban and al-Qa'ida prisoners have been held at Bagram, sometimes before being transferrred to Guantanamo Bay.

The units involved are the 377th Military Police unit and the 519th Military Intelligence unit. The 519th was later deployed at Abu Ghraib, where at least one Iraqi inmate died and prisoners were sexually humiliated.

Human rights campaigners have argued that harsh treatment of alleged Taliban prisoners in jails in Afghanistan - which independent monitors are denied access to - set a precedent for Iraq and may have contributed to the most damaging scandal to affect the US military in decades.

Jumana Musa from Amnesty International USA told The New York Times: "The failure to take prompt action over the prisoners' deaths indicates a chilling disregard for human life and may have laid the groundwork for abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere."

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