- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

The Army says about half of 24 suspicious deaths of detainees had insufficient evidence to prove foul play or were justified homicides.

Spokesmen released the breakdown after a spate of news stories appeared this week on the death toll of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. Army officials say some stories left the impression that all the deaths were still the subject of suspected foul play by soldiers, when they were not.

Col. Joseph Curtin, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, said the service identified 24 suspicious deaths. Of those cases, about half were closed for insufficient evidence or were justified homicides, such as soldiers using deadly force to quell a violent prisoner riot.

The other 12 deaths were deemed to be foul play or were still being investigated. Of those, two involved Navy personnel and one a CIA contractor.

“We want to be transparent in the process,” Col. Curtin said. “The bottom line is that we are held accountable to uphold the law of land warfare, and when there is a death of a detainee under Army control we will investigate to find out what happened.”

The Army, which runs all prison camps in Afghanistan and Iraq, has screened and processed more than 70,000 detainees. Today, it holds about 10,000.

Army officials contend they have released information on every suspicious death and on any criminal charges filed against soldiers.

“We will investigate every case of suspected abuse,” Col. Curtin said.

The Army’s Criminal Investigative Command is now “scrubbing” each of the 24 cases to come up with the exact disposition, a second Army spokesman said.

The Army also contends that the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal was a wake-up call. It has revamped policies and training for military police guards, and has shown a resulting drop in detainee complaints.

Before the scandal broke last summer, there was one Army guard to 75 prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Today, the ratio is 1-to-8.

“The media are making an old story into ‘breaking news,’” said Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a military analyst.

Former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger, who headed one of a series of investigations into detainee abuse, said soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq have acted far better than troops in previous wars.

“The vast majority of that force has behaved in Iraq with extraordinary forbearance, and including countless acts of kindness,” Mr. Schlesinger told the Senate Armed Services Committee in September.

“In this respect, their performance has been vastly better than our performance in previous wars — World War II, Korea and Vietnam. While we did not feel it necessary to spell this out in the report, in light of some of the public commentary, I can only say that it deserves emphasis and repetition.”

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