New Charges Raise Questions on Abuse at Afghan
By CARLOTTA GALL and DAVID ROHDE
Published: September 17, 2004
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KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 16 - Sgt. James P. Boland, a reserve military
police soldier from Cincinnati, watched as a subordinate beat an Afghan
prisoner, Mullah Habibullah, 30, the brother of a former Taliban
commander, according to a military charge sheet released recently.
The report also said that Sergeant Boland shackled an Afghan named
Dilawar, chaining his hands above his shoulders, and denied medical care
to the man, a 22-year-old taxi driver, whose family said he had never
spent a night away from his mother and father before being taken to the
American air base at Bagram, 40 miles north of Kabul. The two detainees
died there within a week of each other in December 2002.
Now, 21 months later, the Army has charged Sergeant Boland with assault
and other crimes and investigators are recommending that two dozen other
American soldiers face criminal charges, including negligent homicide,
or other punishments for abuses that occurred more than a year before
the scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
Far from settling the cases, the charges raise new questions about who
authorized the harsh interrogation methods used in Afghanistan and about
the contradictory statements made by American military officials who,
when questioned shortly after the men's deaths, said they had died of
The military's findings now support accounts by former Afghan prisoners
who said they were subjected to abuses that, while just as harrowing as
any in Iraq, have drawn far less attention or official scrutiny lacking
the kinds of photographs that so shocked the world from Abu Ghraib this
Pentagon and other American officials have said the harsh interrogation
methods described by the Afghans and outlined in the Army's charges were
not authorized for use at Bagram.
A classified portion of an Army report into the Abu Ghraib scandal,
recently obtained by The New York Times, shows that on Dec. 2, 2002,
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had approved such methods for use
only at the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
"Interrogation techniques intended only for Guantánamo came to be used
in Afghanistan and Iraq,'' a separate report by an independent panel,
appointed by Mr. Rumsfeld and headed by James R. Schlesinger, a former
defense secretary, found in August. "In Afghanistan, techniques included
removal of clothing, isolating people for long periods of time, use of
stress positions, exploiting fear of dogs, and sleep and light
Mr. Habibullah and Mr. Dilawar died at Bagram after enduring at least
some of those interrogation methods. A pending report by the naval
inspector general, due to be released in the next few weeks, is expected
to examine how and why those methods were being used here. Military and
government officials have yet to answer those questions.
In addition, recent revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency
kept the names of dozens of detainees at Abu Ghraib and other facilities
in Iraq off official rosters, to hide them from Red Cross inspectors,
have raised fresh concerns over the possibility of similar practices
Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, the commander of American forces in
Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003, said in an e-mail response to questions
this week that in previous interviews he had always given the best
information available to him. Sergeant Boland could not be reached for
In a February 2003 interview, General McNeill acknowledged an
investigation into Mr. Dilawar's death. But neither he nor other
officials disclosed that military pathologists had described both deaths
as homicides caused by beatings.
At the time, General McNeill and other military officials said in
interviews that both Afghan prisoners had died of natural causes. "We
haven't found anything that requires us to take extraordinary action,"
General McNeill said at the time. "We are going to let this
investigation run its course."
He described Mr. Dilawar as having an advanced heart condition and said
his coronary arteries were 85 percent blocked.
When General McNeill was asked at the time whether either prisoner had
suffered injuries in custody, something described on both death
certificates, he replied, "Presently, I have no indication of that." In
a later interview, he said the men had suffered injuries before their
arrival at Bagram.
Asked if prisoners' hands were being chained to ceilings, he denied it.
"We are not chaining people to the ceilings," he said. "I think you
asked me that question before."
A military pathologist's finding on Mr. Dilawar's death certificate was
revealed only when a journalist from The New York Times visited his
family in their isolated village in the province of Khost and read the
form, which was written in English, a language they could not
The spokesman for the American-led force in Afghanistan, Col. Roger
King, then confirmed the authenticity of the death certificate, but
played down the pathologist's findings.
Afterward, the investigation moved slowly, and the troubled military
intelligence unit that ran the Bagram detention center was transferred
to Iraq. Members of that unit - the 519th Military Intelligence
Battalion, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. - have now been implicated in the
deaths of the two Afghans as well as in the abuses at Abu Ghraib.
After the Abu Ghraib scandal, administration and military officials
portrayed the use of the harsh interrogation methods approved by Mr.
Rumsfeld as selective, limited only to prisoners considered to be of
Those 17 methods also included yelling at detainees, hooding them,
shaving their heads and beards, the use of minimal physical contact like
poking or grabbing, and 20-hour interrogations, according to the
classified portions of the Army report provided by a senior military
official who said full disclosure would help explain the causes behind
the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Though it is not clear whether Mr. Rumsfeld was informed of the deaths
of the two Afghan prisoners, a month later he rescinded his list of
interrogation methods. In April, he approved a revised list, authorizing
seven more aggressive interrogation techniques beyond the 17 listed in
the Army's field manual.
Defense officials interviewed this year said that the more aggressive
methods had been used only on two prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
But in interviews in early 2003 and in May 2004, five former Afghan
prisoners, all of whom were later released after the military decided
they posed no threat, described detentions and interrogations under
extremely harsh conditions.
Before being released, three of the men were sent from Afghanistan to
Guantánamo Bay. All said they were treated far worse in Afghanistan and
that Guantánamo was more orderly and had more rules. In all, they spent
14 months in American detention.
Three of those interviewed said they were arrested with Mr. Dilawar
after a broken walkie-talkie and an electric stabilizer were found in
his taxi several hours after rockets were fired at an American base.
In interviews in May 2004, the three men said they were hooded and had
their arms raised and chained to the ceiling for hours and days at a
time at Bagram.
All the prisoners said they were first held in second-floor isolation
cells, for periods ranging from 5 to 16 days. Later, they said, they and
other prisoners were moved to the ground floor where they were held in
large chain-link cages and barred from conversing.
One of the three men, Zakim Shah, a 20-year-old farmer, said he was kept
awake by soldiers blaring music and shouting at him. He said he grew so
exhausted at one point that he vomited.
Another, Parkhudin, a 26-year-old farmer and former soldier, said his
hands were chained to the ceiling for 8 of his 10 days in isolation and
that he was hooded for hours at a time.
"They were putting a mask over our heads, they were beating us in Bagram,"
he said. "I think Dilawar died because he couldn't breathe. For me, it
was very difficult to breathe."
Mr. Parkhudin said he was forced to lie on his stomach and that a
soldier then jumped on his back. He said he believed that the Afghan in
an adjoining isolation cell was Mr. Dilawar because the prisoner cried
out for his mother and father.
The third man, Abdur Rahim, a 26-year-old baker, said that he was hooded
and that his hands were chained to the ceiling for "seven or eight days"
and turned black.
American interrogators forced him to crouch and hold his hands out in
front of him for long periods, causing intense pain in his shoulders.
When he tried to sit up, he said, "they were coming and hitting me and
saying 'Don't move!' "
Two other men, interviewed in February 2003, Abdul Jabar, a 35-year-old
taxi driver, and Hakkim Shah, a 32-year-old farmer, were held at the
same time as Mr. Dilawar and described similar treatment.
Mr. Shah said he spent 16 days in upstairs rooms naked, hooded and
shackled to the ceiling for 10 days until his legs became so swollen
that the shackles cut off the blood flow and he could no longer stand.
Doctors eventually removed the shackles and allowed him to sit.
Beyond Bagram, the Central Intelligence Agency maintains a large
compound, based in the Ariana, a hotel in central Kabul, just 200 yards
from the presidential palace.
Privately, the C.I.A. has been much criticized by Red Cross officials
for providing no information about its detainees in Afghanistan. The
street where its compound stands is blocked. The walls are covered with
barbed wire. The Red Cross says it has been denied access to the
detainees held there.
A detainee from the compound, a former Taliban commander named Mullah
Rocketi, who gave himself up to American officials, said in an interview
after his release last year that he had spent eight months there. He
described the compound as reasonably comfortable and said he was not
mistreated. But he said he never saw the Red Cross. He said he was
released after making a deal with American officials, but would not
Another former Afghan commander taken there was Jan Baz Khan, who worked
for the C.I.A. and then came under suspicion of being behind rocket
attacks on an American base, according to a United States military
commander who did not want to be named. He said the prisoner was taken
there in January.
There has been no word of his release. No one knows how many other
people are held there still.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington for this article.