Afghan prisoners were 'tortured to death' by American guards

Justin Huggler,Asia Correspondent
Saturday 21 May 2005 00:00 BST

Shocking and detailed accounts have emerged of how two Afghan prisoners were tortured to death by American interrogators and prison guards at Bagram air base, outside Kabul.

Shocking and detailed accounts have emerged of how two Afghan prisoners were tortured to death by American interrogators and prison guards at Bagram air base, outside Kabul.

A 2,000-page report on an internal investigation by the US military leaked to The New York Times and published yesterday provides exhaustive detail on how the two were kept chained in excruciating positions and kicked to death.

The harrowing stories of the deaths of Habibullah and Dilawar told in the report could prove as damaging to the US as the photographs of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

The report reveals that Dilawar, a taxi driver, died despite the fact that most of the interrogators were convinced he was innocent.

There will be fears of an explosive reaction in Afghanistan. The New York Times report comes a week after at least 15 people were killed in protests in Afghanistan triggered by a Newsweek report which said US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a lavatory. Newsweek has since retracted the report, saying it was based on a flawed source.

But The New York Times story will not go away so easily for the Bush administration. Its source is the findings of the US military's own investigation. It also comes at a dangerous time in Afghanistan, with violence increasing and signs that the Taliban may be resurgent.

The leaked report contains graphic details of a culture of abuse at Bagram, where detainees are held while the US military decides whether to send them to Guantanamo. In sworn statements, US soldiers tell of a woman interrogator with a taste for humiliation who stepped on the neck of one detainee and kicked another in the genitals.

They also tell of Specialist Damien Corsetti, an interrogator called "Monster" - he had the word tattooed in Italian across his chest - who one sergeant praised as the "king of torture". One Saudi detainee testified that Spc Corsetti held his penis against his face and threatened to rape him.

The report includes the names of all the US soldiers involved. It details the cases of the two Afghan men who died in US custody. The first, Habibullah, was captured in November 2002. He was locked in an isolation cell with his hands shackled to the wire ceiling over his head. The report describes how he was literally kicked to death over several days.

The guards found him "uncooperative", and he was given multiple "peroneal strikes" - a disabling blow to the leg just above the knee. "That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg," former Sgt Thomas Curtis told investigators.

A lawyer for one of the guards who kneed Habibullah in this fashion told US investigators: "My client was acting consistently with the standard operating procedure that was in place at the Bagram facility."

When Habibullah started coughing up phlegm and complaining of chest pains, the guards laughed at him. Eventually his dead body was found hanging from the handcuffs that still chained him to the ceiling. A post-mortem examination found that he was probably killed by a blood clot, caused by the leg injuries, which travelled to his heart and blocked the blood supply to his lungs.

Dilawar, a taxi driver, was detained in December 2002 as he drove past a US base that had earlier come under rocket attack. Passengers he had picked up were carrying suspicious items.

Spc Corey Jones, an interrogator, told investigators that Dilawar spat in his face. He responded with a couple of knee strikes.

"He screamed out, 'Allah! Allah! Allah!' and my first reaction was that he was crying out to his God," Spc Jones said. "Everybody heard him cry out and thought it was funny." The report says it became a running joke and prison guards kicked Dilawar just to hear him scream "Allah". "It went on over a 24-hour period, and I would think that it was over 100 strikes," he said.

During an interrogation, the severely injured Dilawar begged a translator to get him a doctor. The translator says he told the interrogators, but one replied: "He's OK. He's just trying to get out of his restraints."

An autopsy found that Dilawar died of heart failure caused by "blunt force injuries to the lower extremities". The coroner, Lieutenant-Colonel Elizabeth Rouse, told a pre-trial hearing that his legs "had basically been pulpified ... I've seen similar injuries in an individual run over by a bus."

Seven US soldiers face criminal charges.

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