Chained, tortured and left to die in cell
Saturday May 21, 2005
Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him. The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention centre in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2am to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base.
When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummelled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they had finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
Several hours later an emergency room doctor saw Dilawar. By then he was dead. It would be months before army investigators learned a final horrific detail: most of the interrogators had believed Dilawar was an innocent man who drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.
The story of Dilawar's death - and that of another detainee, Habibullah, who died there six days earlier in December 2002 - emerge from a 2,000-page confidential file of the army's criminal investigation into the case, a copy of which has been obtained by the New York Times.
The Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths.
In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards.
Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.
In sworn statements to army investigators, soldiers describe one female interrogator stepping on the neck of one prostrate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet another prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning.
Some of the mistreatment was quite obvious, the file suggests. Senior officers frequently toured the detention centre, and several of them acknowledged seeing prisoners chained up for punishment or to deprive them of sleep.
In late August of 2002, the Bagram interrogators were joined by a new military police unit. The soldiers, mostly reservists from the 377th Military Police Company based in Cincinnati and Bloomington, Indiana, were unprepared for their mission, members of the unit said.
Once in Afghanistan, members of the 377th found the usual rules did not seem to apply. The peroneal strike - a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg, just above the knee - quickly became a basic weapon of their arsenal. They said they were never told it was not part of army doctrine.
The detainee known as Person Under Control No. 412 was a portly, well-groomed Afghan named Habibullah. Some American officials identified him as "Mullah" Habibullah, a brother of a former Taliban commander from the southern Afghan province of Oruzgan.
Documents from the investigation suggest that Habibullah was captured by an Afghan warlord on November 28 2002, and delivered to Bagram by CIA operatives two days later
Habibullah was identified as an important prisoner and an unusually sharp-tongued and insubordinate one. He was shackled by the wrists to the wire ceiling over his cell, soldiers said.
On his second day, December 1, the prisoner was "uncooperative" again, this time with Specialist Willie V Brand. The guard, who has since been charged with assault and other crimes, told investigators he had delivered three peroneal strikes in response. The next day, Specialist Brand said, he had to knee the prisoner again. Other blows followed.
By December 3, Habibullah's reputation for defiance seemed to make him an open target. One MP said he had given him five peroneal strikes for being "noncompliant and combative." Another gave him three or four more for being "combative and noncompliant." Some guards later asserted that he had been hurt trying to escape.
When Sgt. James P Boland saw Habibullah on December 3, he was in one of the isolation cells, tethered to the ceiling by two sets of handcuffs and a chain around his waist. His body was slumped forward, held up by the chains.
His death was attributed to a blood clot, probably caused by the severe injuries to his legs, which travelled to his heart and blocked the blood flow to his lungs.
· This is an edited version of a report that appeared in yesterday's New York Times