- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

Nearly 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan since August 2002, of which 34 deaths were homicides and at least eight resulted from torture, a human rights group says.

The Pentagon denied the charges.

Close examinations of the deaths showed a lack of commander accountability, Human Rights First told reporters in a telephone press conference Wednesday.

“There is a culture of impunity that no one would be held fully accountable for detainee deaths,” said Deborah Pearlstein, director of the group’s law and security program.

A report by the group, “Command’s Responsibility, Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan,” profiled 12 cases of what it called homicides related to torture or force and nine cases of deaths from officially unknown, natural or other causes.

The Pentagon said that the deaths had been investigated and that those responsible had been punished.

“There have been 18,000 detainees, and the majority of them were released over the time,” said Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros. “The Department of Defense has fully investigated every detainee’s death, and its policy has always been to treat detainees in custody humanely.”

He said 600 investigations of detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan have been carried out, and 250 service members were held accountable.

The report from Human Rights First, however, said that out of 98 deaths, only 12 have resulted in any kind of punishment and that the most severe punishment for torture-related death was five months’ confinement.

The group said the number of torture-related deaths could be largely undercounted because the report excluded deaths recorded as results of injury, combat or detainee violence.

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