Two Years After Abu Ghraib, Abuse Reports Linger

Two years ago, disturbing photographs showing U.S. soldiers abusing detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison were made public. Amid an outcry, Congress and the White House promised to punish those responsible. But a report by several human-rights groups says that, so far, only low-ranking soldiers have borne the brunt of the scandal, and that abuse in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan, is still widespread.

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More than 600 U.S. personnel have been implicated in the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and elsewhere. That figure is from a report issued today by human rights groups. Its release comes two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted. And the human rights groups note that only low-ranking soldiers have been charged in that abuse. But there are reports this week that charges might be brought against an officer who oversaw the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib.

NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

The report, a 27-page document titled By the Numbers, is described by its authors as an accounting of credible allegations of torture and abuse by U.S. service personnel. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability project, which is made up of several human rights groups, began collecting hundreds of allegations of abuse that occurred since late 2001. Meg Satterthwaite with New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice says the project found that abuse of detainees is pervasive.

Ms. MEG SATTERTHWAITE (Center for Human Rights and Global Justice): We have documented cases from all of the major locations where U.S. forces are active and detainees are held, Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo. To give some examples, in Afghanistan abuses occurred in Bagram, Kandahar, Gardez and CIA facilities. In Iraq, the majority of abuses occurred outside of Abu Ghraib in places like Mosel, Fallujah, Nazaria.

NORTHAM: And the list goes on. The project said it documented over 330 cases in which U.S. military and civilian personnel are credibly alleged to have tortured, killed or abused detainees, says Hina Shamsi, with Human Rights First.

Ms. HINA SHAMSI (Human Rights First): These cases involve more than 460 detainees and implicate more than 600 U.S. personnel. Over 95 percent of those implicated were military personnel. The remainder were from the CIA or other intelligence agencies, or were civilian contractors working either for the military or the CIA.

NORTHAM: The Pentagon says that is has done more than 600 investigations into allegations of detainee abuse. And that more than 250 service members, including officers, have been held accountable for their involvement with detainee mistreatment.

Still the authors of the report found that only 40 people, all military, were sentenced to any prison time, only a quarter of those received sentences of more than a year. To date the highest ranking soldier that has been convicted has been a staff sergeant and career ending, non-judicial punishments were handed out to two higher ranking officers.

For months there were concerns that no one else would be drawn into the net. Now Army officials are reportedly planning to press charges against Lieutenant Colonel Steven Jordan, the former chief of the interrogation center at Abu Ghraib Prison. His lawyer, Samuel Spitzberg, says the charges will include dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming to an officer and lying to investigators.

John Sifton with Human Rights Watch calls them throwaway charges.

Mr. JOHN SIFTON (Human Rights Watch): Dereliction of duty may sound serious. The maximum punishment under the usual prosecution is only six months.

NORTHAM: Nonetheless, this would make Jordan the highest ranking officer at the notorious prison to face charges in connection with the abuse. Walter Huffman, the Dean of Texas Tech School of Law and a former Army judge advocate general, says the wheels of military justice move slow, but they do grind on.

Mr. WALTER HUFFMAN (Texas Tech School of Law): The military justice system will properly identify people who may be responsible at any level of command or authority. And sometimes it takes some time for these things to sort their way out. And we'd all like a quick answer, but the right answer is the more important thing.

NORTHAM: Pentagon officials would not comment on the charges against Jordan, except to say that the alleged offenses are still under consideration by the chain of command. Jordan's lawyer, Spitzberg, says the charges are expected soon.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Washington.

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