U.S. Navy documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal that abuse and even torture of detainees by U.S. Marines in Iraq was widespread. One Navy criminal investigator sent an e-mail in June 2004 describing his Iraq caseload “exploding” with “high visibility cases.”
“Day after day, new stories of torture are coming to light, and we need to know how these abuses were allowed to happen,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “This kind of widespread abuse could not have taken place without a leadership failure of the highest order.”
The release of these documents follows a federal court order that directed the Defense Department and other government agencies to comply with a year-old request under the Freedom of Information Act filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.
The documents the ACLU released today, posted online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia, describe substantiated incidents of torture and abuse by U.S. Marines, including:
– holding a pistol to the back of a detainee’s head while another Marine took a picture (Karbala, May 2003)
– ordering four Iraqi juveniles to kneel while a pistol was “discharged to conduct a mock execution” (Adiwaniyah, June 2003)
– severely burning a detainee’s hands by covering them in alcohol and igniting them (Al Mumudiyah, August 2003)
– shocking a detainee with an electric transformer, causing the detainee to “dance” as he was shocked (Al Mumudiyah, April 2004)
The new evidence comes on the heels of documents released by the ACLU and its allies last Tuesday, which revealed that a special operations task force in Iraq sought to silence Defense Intelligence Agency personnel who observed abuse and that the Department of Defense adopted questionable interrogation techniques at Guantanamo over FBI objections.
“Abuse of detainees was not aberrational,” said ACLU staff attorney Jameel Jaffer. “The Defense Department adopted extreme interrogation techniques as a matter of policy.”
In addition to highlighting the torture and abuse of Iraqis by U.S. Marines, the documents released today suggest the existence of an internal culture of secrecy, said Jaffer. For example, when describing the Marines’ “rough handling” of Iraqi prisoners, one Navy corpsman noted, “there was a lot of peer pressure to keep one’s mouth shut.”
Other records released by the ACLU today include investigative interviews with Navy personnel that provide a glimpse into the routine abusive treatment of detainees by U.S. forces in Iraq. For example, in one interview, a Navy corpsman described the regular process whereby Iraqis classified as Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs) would be taken to an empty swimming pool and handcuffed and legcuffed with burlap bags placed over their heads. They would then remain in the kneeling position for up to 24 hours awaiting interrogation. Despite providing this description, the officer stated that he “never saw any instances of physical abuse” toward the detainees.
In response to the release of documents last week, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calling on him to “expeditiously investigate the allegations of suppression” and to “take immediate action to make public all documents related to cases of detainee abuse not critical to national security and hold accountable those that have attempted to cover up reports of detainee abuse.”
Jaffer said the ACLU is continuing to press the government to disclose more documents and will return to court if necessary to ensure that relevant documents are released. The government is required to release all documents by Jan. 31, 2005.
The lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Jaffer, Amrit Singh and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Art Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky and Jeff Fogel of CCR.
The documents obtained by the ACLU are online at www.aclu.org/torturefoia.